July 14, 2011

Safety vs. the environment: A win-win story

Diverse groups get proactive to develop Smart About Salt, a program to prevent unnecessary use of salt, while assuring public safety

The Smart About Salt (SAS) certification program is run by a not-for-profit council that is dedicated to reducing the environmental effects of road salt by improving snow and ice control practices on parking lots and sidewalks — without compromising safety.

The program was created in 2008 by the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Ont., to address elevated salt loadings to its groundwater. The SAS program complements the Region's efforts to reduce salt put down on its roads, by focusing on salt used at private retail, institutional and manufacturing sites. 

The SAS training and certification program caught the attention of Landscape Ontario; many snow and ice control contractors belong to the trade association. Landscape Ontario's executive director Tony DiGiovanni says, "The Smart About Salt program is a gift to the snow and ice management industry. It will increase knowledge and professionalism, reduce the environmental impact of salt operations and at the same time maintain safety. The support of the insurance industry is revolutionary. Landscape Ontario is proud to support the SAS program."

At the same time, the Ottawa chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) also recognized the SAS program's benefits. Dean Karakasis, executive director, said, "The Building Owners and Managers Association of Ottawa believes that Smart About Salt is a logical extension of its environmental strategy, to assist building owners and property managers in the Capital Region, to reduce the overall impact that the commercial real estate industry has on the environment, through the reduction of salt usage."

To take the program beyond Waterloo, it was necessary to form the Smart About Salt Council. This council was created in 2010, with the Region of Waterloo, Landscape Ontario and BOMA Ottawa as founding members.  Later that year, the Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA) saw the importance of the program to Ontario municipalities and joined the SAS Board of Directors.

Contractors and managers work together
The SAS program is two-pronged, promoting the concept of a partnership between facility owners and managers, and their snow and ice control service professionals. So if you are a contractor providing snow and ice services to public and private facilities, you can become a Smart About Salt Certified Contracting Company. If you are the owner or manager of a facility such as a shopping mall, manufacturing site, public housing site, education facility or hospital, you can become a Smart About Salt Certified Site.

What does it take to be a certified contractor? First, you have to complete a self-assessment of your current operations, asking yourself some soul-searching questions. Are you calibrating your equipment properly? Are you using proper application rates? Do you really know how much salt you are putting down? How good is your record keeping? How well do your people understand how salt works?  Are you storing your salt in a way that protects the environment? Are you plowing enough and are you training your staff in best salt management practices?

Then, you will develop a plan to improve your operations where necessary. If you are prepared to commit to making the necessary changes over the next couple of years, you can become SAS-certified — a requirement for bidding on contracts for the Region of Waterloo. So far, 25 contractors have become certified, achieving recognition for their efforts to be good at what they do.

Facilities can become SAS-certified by completing the self-assessment worksheet designed for sites. The goal is to assess the sites, identify areas that ice-up because of poor drainage and improve these problem areas. They also must commit to hiring SAS Certified Contractors or to having their own forces earn SAS Certification.

For both contractors and facilities, there is a fee for certification and an annual renewal requirement.

Idea catching fire
Bob Hodgins, executive director of the Smart About Salt Council and co-designer of the program, has seen tremendous interest in the program on several fronts. "Recently, I have had several municipalities express interest in requiring their facilities to be SAS-certified and to require SAS certification from bidders on snow and ice control contracts for their facilities. A major transit authority has also stated a strong intent to implement the SAS program for its extensive network of stations. "

Protection of drinking water is a major Ontario initiative, with its Clean Water Act requiring source protection plans throughout the province. The province has identified road salt as a significant threat to drinking water, that needs to be addressed in these plans. Drafters of these plans have been given sample wording permitting facilities to use salt, provided they are Smart About Salt Certified and use SAS Certified Contractors.

The Smart About Salt program is an important tool in managing winter-related risks. The value of the program has been recognized by Marsh Canada, broker for the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association's (CNLA) HortProtect insurance. Lyne Erwin, managing director of Marsh Canada Limited wrote, "The current HortProtect insurance program through CNLA offers a liability premium discount for members who have their Smart About Salt designation." The Smart About Salt Council and Marsh Canada will work together to develop ways that serve the snow and ice control industry and their clients.

A program that works
Smart About Salt Certified contractors are dedicated to proactive winter control using best management practices to reduce winter risks. "SAS certified contractors know that being proactive, using the right tools and maintaining accurate and detailed records are the keys to reducing liability," says Hodgins. The program also requires facility owners that want to become SAS Certified to conduct a risk audit of their sites to develop strategies to reduce the potential for slips or falls. The partnership model that the Smart About Salt Program promotes between facility and contractor is the best way to work together to manage risk.

Training is a program priority. Over 140 operators have passed the Smart About Salt training program and become SAS Accredited Operators. Training covers everything from salt science to the use of liquid deicers, from the environmental effects of salt to understanding weather, from risk management and record keeping to equipment calibration and much more. "There will be a big push on training this year, with a focus on the Ottawa area, given the high degree of interest in the National Capital Region," says Hodgins.

"The Smart About Salt Training program has helped us to focus on improving service to our clients with less salt by being proactive and using liquids," says Brian Perras of BP Landscaping and Snow Removal, Caledon, Ont.

As long as you are SAS-certified, you can use the Smart About Salt logo in your promotional materials, you will be listed on the SAS website and you have access to salt-related resources through the member section of the website.

Now is the time to start getting SAS Certification, so when facility managers and public tenders specify that you must be SAS Certified to bid, you are ahead of the crowd. 

Visit www.smartaboutsalt.com to find out more about the program, and download application forms and worksheets.