Long before the first snowflakes fall, facilities in colder climates will be gearing up for winter — a time when moisture and ice melt wreak havoc on floors and increase the risk of slip-and-fall injuries.

Indeed, inclement weather can quickly morph from a minor inconvenience to a major stressor that impacts the company’s bottom line. Just ask Martin Tirado, CEO of the Snow and Ice Management Association in Mequon, Wisconsin, whose members provide snow removal services for sidewalks, parking lots and entryways.

“These are emergency services,” he says. “Properties can’t open if you don’t provide adequate snow and ice removal.”

To aid the process, Tirado stresses the importance of quality equipment — everything from snow shovels to ice melt and personal protective equipment (PPE) — as well as ongoing communication with third-party suppliers.

“Shoveling entryways should be done after your service provider plows and clears the sidewalks,” he says. “So make sure building management and hired crews work in harmony with each other and coordinate their schedules.”

Melting Misconceptions

Ice melt is an essential tool in a facility’s arsenal of snow removal equipment. It can, however, be frequently misused. According to industry experts, custodians tend to view ice melt as a cure-all and apply it liberally, resulting in damaged assets and even slicker floors inside entrances.

“People tend to over-salt for fear of litigation,” says Mike Sawchuck, president of Sawchuk Consulting, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. “Those salt particulates are dragged into the building on people’s feet where they act like a fine sheet of sandpaper.”

Additionally, excessive ice melt creates a dull haze that affects the aesthetics of the floor and increases slickness once moisture is introduced. To counteract these problems, experts advise portion control and the use of spreaders to ensure even application of ice melt used outside entrances.

So how much ice melt should custodians use? The answer depends on a combination of factors, such as surface temperature (not air temperature); whether the area is in the sun or the shade; and whether or not the temperature is increasing, decreasing or constant.

Similarly, choosing the right ice melt product depends on a variety of factors. Sodium chloride, commonly known as rock salt, is the least expensive and most frequently used product. However, it can damage assets and lose effectiveness if the temperature drops below 15 degrees.

“Rock salt is best used in areas such as large asphalt parking lots,” says Sawchuck. “If you have fine concrete or exposed aggregate sidewalks with a lot of vegetation, you may want to stay away from it.”

Some properties, such as healthcare facilities, may be sensitive to rock salt that is inadvertently tracked into the building. In these instances, non-chloride or liquid options may be preferable.

Liquid ice melt can be used as a preventative measure to postpone the formulation of ice on areas such as sidewalks. It can also be applied with autoscrubbers or pressure washers to clean or protect assets. Some companies in Canada, for example, use liquid ice melt to clean dirt and snow off glass bus stop shelters after plowing.

Despite the benefits of liquid ice melt, Sawchuck cautions facilities to consider its impact on the environment and people in the facility. Some products may leave an oily residue on matting and floors. He also advises users to pay close attention to dilution rates as liquid products tend to have an inverse ratio of chemicals to water compared to non-liquid products.

No matter which type is used, the timing of ice melt application is key to its effectiveness and dependent on the weather.

“For heavy snowfall, plowing should be followed up by an ice melt application, unless the surface is pretreated with a liquid,” says Tirado. “Otherwise, much of the salt gets plowed off the surface with the snow. In other weather, such as ice storms or light snow, an ice melt application can do the job.”

Pretreatment of surfaces should be completed as close to the start of a snow and ice event as possible, preferably within 24 hours.

Once ice melt has done its job, custodians can use a push broom to remove excess water that pools on the sidewalks. This should be done at the end of the day before water has a chance to refreeze overnight.

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Matting Pivotal To Occupant Safety