Editor’s Notebook: Is Snow Still Essential?
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Editor’s Notebook: Is Snow Still Essential?

As governors consider actions to combat climbing COVID rates, some contractors are left to wonder if they retain their essential status heading into this winter.

November 18, 2020


With reports of COVID infection rates spiking in many northern states, snow and ice management contractors may wonder whether their status as an “essential” service continues to hold while state governments ponder restricting social behaviors, instituting curfews, and enacting some limited business shutdowns.

At this time, snow and ice management continues to be deemed an essential service, says Josh Ferguson, Partner and Co-chair of the Philadelphia office at Freeman, Mathis & Gary LLP.

“The argument is that maintaining clean and clear drive lanes and sidewalks are not only required by most state, city and township regulations, but is necessary to keep essential businesses like hospitals, medical providers, grocery stores, logistics/distribution centers open for business,” says Ferguson, who also serves as the general counsel for the Accredited Snow Contractors Association (ASCA).

However, Ferguson still recommends researching and reviewing the definition of “essential” businesses within the states you operate in this winter.

“Almost all [states] include 'building cleaning and maintenance’ or ‘building support,’ which necessarily includes safe access to those building, thus making the snow and ice management company part of the essential chain,” he adds.

ASCA Executive Director Kevin Gilbride says he’s fielded contractor inquiries about the “essential” status of snow and ice management services, as well as discussed with some industry leaders the measures they were taking to prepare their crews to operate effectively and safely heading into Winter 2020-21.

It’s his understanding that the decisions and determinations on who is essential are made within each state’s governor’s office. However, Gilbride recognizes weeding through state government websites and news releases for details on operational guidelines can be daunting, overwhelming and frustrating due to the fluctuating nature of how state governments react to COVID activity.

“Contractors may want data on properly outfitting crews and laborers during the pandemic,” he says. “Therefore, I recommend reaching out to your county’s health department for information on what is essential for your crews to operate safely and to meet any governmental guidelines.”

Gilbride has spoken to snow pros who have developed plans for how their snow crews are to operate this winter while the pandemic persists and have submitted those plans for review by their respective county health departments. These plans reflect basic guidelines about social distancing, mask wearing and equipment disinfecting, as well as details on how many employees are allowed in a truck,  job-site protocols, and other pertinent details.

“At the very least, having a reviewed plan adds an extra layer of precaution in keeping your crews safety this winter and will prevent your snow operations from being sidelined by a COVID outbreak,” Gilbride says. “And it’s a probably a good idea to have copies of these plans in each truck in the event someone would question your crews on a job site as they attempt to complete their assigned tasks.”

Mike Zawacki is editor of Snow Magazine. You can reach him at mzawcki@gie.net