I’m sure you’re familiar with the warning: "Heads up!" Sometimes these two words can be a real life saver.

But if your snow removal contracts include sidewalk maintenance, then these words of caution may be more pertinent to you than you imagine because potential risk and liability isn’t always just at ground level or on the pavement surface. Once you remove the snow, there still may be building components that affect snow removal operations and your liability. These areas of concern may be right above your head.

For example, when you’re conducting your preseason site review, how often do you factor in awnings? Awnings are roof-like coverings, typically of canvas, over a door or window to provide protection against sun, wind and rain. They can be retractable or fixed.

During the warm weather awnings are a non-issue and they can be easily overlooked. But as you can see in the picture, awnings during the winter months pose a unique snow removal problem.

Awnings on commercial and retail buildings typically do not have any drainage control and their pitch may be shallow enough that they will hold snow. This is especially a concern on the north side of a building where the building shades the awning and any snow that collects on it.

Even though accumulated snow is exposed to the outside temperature at the top and the bottom, a lighting fixture underneath the awning can have a considerable impact on the thaw and refreeze cycles of that snow.

Since awnings typically are not outfitted with gutters to control drainage, that melted snow drips, uncontrolled, off the edge of the awning and onto the pavement below.

Remember, awnings are designed to protect the entryway into a facility or retail outlet. When the temperature drops below freezing the snow-melt that drips onto the pavement refreezes, creating a prime slip-and-fall scenario.

And since awnings typically do not have snow guards, another concern is the potential for built-up snow and ice to slide off the awning onto the pedestrian area below.

When these situations occur in front of a door, they represent a serious safety concern to pedestrians and potential liability concerns for the snow professional, as well as that of the owner/property manager.

These are design issues that impact the approach a professional snow removal contractor must make when designing a plan on how to best serve the client’s property. And it’s another opportunity for the snow professional to control the risks associated with personal injuries.

By identifying these situations and establishing appropriate responses and responsibilities with the owner/property manager, the potential that a pedestrian may get hurt, and that the snow professional will be drawn into a lawsuit, are lessened. Ultimately, identifying these design flaws is the responsibility of the professional snow removal contractor.

So when you’re conducting your preseason property reviews make sure you look up once in a while because potential risk and liability might be right over your head.
Heads up!

November 2009
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