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It’s been an active year so far for the Accredited Snow Contractors Association, with victories on a number of fronts. Executive Director Kevin Gilbride addresses a number of topics, including the recent achievements, ground gained toward long-term goals, the state of the association, and what the industry can expect from the ASCA in the near future.

October 14, 2016
Association News Director's Column
The start of Winter 2016-17 – in essence the new snow year – is just weeks away. What word defines the last year for the ASCA and why?
Breakthrough. The association has made huge strides on every front over the past four years, but truthfully, we had been operating on theory. Through a lot of thoughtful and thorough research — and many, many conversations with insurance companies, attorneys, legislative representatives, and property managers and owners – we established the ASCA on four distinct pillars. The first three were primarily about snow and ice management companies and the industry taking responsibility for itself. Those three include written Industry Standards, education to ensure Industry Standards were understood, and a verification system to ensure the Industry Standards were implemented by a snow and ice management operation. The fourth focused on positive legislative change. The ASCA findings indicated if we did these things we could reduce insurance premiums, change laws, and put professional contractors in a better position to work with their customers.
This year this theory we were operating under became fact. ISO9001/SN9001-certified companies, and companies with ASCA-Certified (ASCA-C) individuals are twice as likely to have a slip-and-fall claim outright dismissed than the rest of the industry. And if a case is settled, it is settled for three times less than the industry average. We have seen reductions in insurance rates by as much as 30 percent for some of these snow and ice management companies. We also proved that our legislative initiatives are real and effective, with our first piece of model legislation – The Snow Removal Service Liability Limitation Act – being adopted in Illinois.
 
What does the association’s legislative victory in Illinois mean for the industry? How did it impact the ASCA, and how does this set up the passage of similar legislation in other snow states?
It’s huge. In Illinois, our legislation received bipartisan support and unanimous passage. That tells you how logical The Snow Removal Service Liability Limitation Act is for states our industry operates in. For snow and ice management contractors, it completely changes the relationship with the customer. No longer is the contractor on the hook for a property managers/owner’s decision. If you are not contracted to plow until two inches are on the ground, and a slip-and-fall incident happens at one inch, even a bad contract can’t pull you into a lawsuit. Previously, the one question we’d receive in every state is: “What have other states done?” Now, we have a great answer.

How does the ASCA choose the states it’s focusing its legislative efforts on?
Of course, the ASCA has limited resources. The states that have been active so far have been those where an individual association member, or group of members, has been willing to actively represent these initiatives on the ground in that state. We’ve worked very closely with those members to get the ball rolling and support them all the way from the initial meetings with legislative representatives to final passage. Without a doubt, it’s the folks on the ground in those states that has the most impact.

The ASCA’s first foray into politics was in pursuing tort reform at the federal level, which would have a profound impact on the snow and ice management industry. What is the status of the association’s efforts on the national stage?
We have helped get the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act passed in the U.S. house of Representatives. It is now Senate Bill 401, and sits in the Senate Judiciary Committee. If they get a Democratic co-sponsor, they will move this in the Senate. Unfortunately, we are growing short on time with this session ending at the end of this term. If this happens, we will need to start in the House again next session.

In terms of strength and leadership, how is membership with the association and what are the ASCA’s goals with regard to the association’s make up?
Membership is growing rapidly, reaching membership peaks each of the last six months. The mission of the ASCA is focused on snow and ice management companies that service commercial customers and HOA’s. There are roughly 35,000 of those in the U.S and Canada. The work the association is involved in supports all of these companies. We hope they would, in turn, support the ASCA’s efforts.

Establishing ISO 9001/SN 9001 certification for the snow and ice management industry was one of the ASCA’s early major victories. Has certification gained acceptance both in and outside the industry?
It is being recognized outside the industry. First through the insurance program through Mills Insurance. Companies that are certified have been realizing much better consideration in their insurance rates. We are also seeing some large property owners beginning to include ISO9001/SN9001 within their RFP’s. At least one requires it to bid right now, with a number of others asking where companies are at in earning this certification.

One of the association’s original mandates was to control insurance costs and to stem the flow of carriers fleeing the industry. What progress has been made on the insurance side of snow and ice management.
We are making progress. Not a quickly as we would like, but we are making progress. I can certainly tell you stories of companies that saved 30 percent plus in the last year due to our certification programs and relationship with Mills insurance. And there are others who have not realized this saving yet. There are times where an existing agent will shop this program, then leverage it against their current offering for a better rate. I understand this. However, that does not make our program stronger. The larger our program grows in premium, the more leverage we have with the carrier. Mills is able to work with your current agents and your relationships with them remains the same. We encourage that.
At the same time, part of the issue from the insurance world is snow contractors cutting corners, or insurance corners. Often the problem is contractors misrepresenting themselves to the insurance world. Our programs discourage that, as we have a long-term fix to bring down insurance rates, by doing things the right way, so the games can go away. Some are already realizing the positive impact of this on both industries.

Talk about your goals for ASCA-C, the association’s individual certification for those working in the snow and ice management industry. How is ASCA-C evolving with regard to those earning and maintaining certification, as well as what the designation means for one’s snow an ice operation?
ASCA-C is our individual certification for professionals in the snow and ice management industry. With more than 500 individuals earning this certification to date it is taking hold nicely. Most companies that certified employees have more than one person certified. Owners like it for a number of reasons. First, the courses are all on-line, so they are assured that an employee that gets certified today and one that gets certified next month or next year, receives the exact same information. It also takes the burden off of the owner when asking their employees to complete certain tasks. For example, owners with ASCA-C individuals on staff have an easier time getting in-event documentation turned in and completed correctly. It gives the employee the practical education behind why their company needs this documentation. ASCA-C has proven to be a very powerful tool for snow and ice management contractors.

The association has established Executive Summit as the conference to attend for advanced business education and networking. How do you see this conference evolving in the future?
Executive Summit has been a great event, and those individuals who have attended have gleaned a lot of great information from the educational sessions, and as much, if not more from their peers in attendance. That is the way the event is set up. I believe Executive Summit will continue to evolve in the type and level of education that is provided. We have been told we get better each year. I believe this is because we listen closely to what attendees are asking for in terms of education and engagement. So the event will evolve as the attendees, their companies, and their knowledge and educational needs evolve.

While the ASCA has a healthy number of Canadian members, what are the association’s plans for involvement and action with its snow fighting brethren to the north?
We are active in Canada already. Canadian companies are already ISO9001/SN9001 certified. Since there is no Canadian Standard for Snow and Ice Management, they are following the American National Standard (the ASCA’s: ANSI/ASCA A 1000 – 2014: System Requirements for Snow and Ice Management), a common practice that is often used to defend a company or and industry in Canada. We have also begun the process, and laid the groundwork, to get our legislative initiates moving in Ontario.