February 5, 2020
Nicole Ashton
Nicole Ashton

Snow fighters’ latest challenge: Insurance

You are never alone


Passion, by definition, is a strong and barely controllable emotion. Passion was witnessed at the Emergency Snow and Ice Meeting held at Landscape Ontario’s Congress last month. I stood at the back of the room and observed person after person stand up and tell stories about how they had been wronged by the insurance industry. A company with 32 years in business, never had a slip-and-fall, lost insurance. One company’s insurance rates increased by 300 per cent. Another company owner was forced to use extremely high deductibles to obtain insurance. Some were absolutely appalled by the fraudulent and frivolous slip-and-fall claims that have scarred our industry to the depth of our souls. We, as professionals, give so much of ourselves for our clients, for our businesses, for our industry.

Snow removal is emotional, possibly one of the rawest industries I have come across. We work ourselves until drained and delirious, eyes bloodshot, physically and mentally exhausted. We work for days straight in a snowstorm to keep our sites safe — all while receiving call after call from client after client with the same message. “There’s snow in the parking lot, customers are complaining, when are you coming back?” (I could go on and on…) The next day, the sun comes up and it’s over. Lots and walks are cleared, salt is turning into brine, curbs are visible, and it was like it never happened at all. My friend once asked me, “Why do you do this? You kill yourself, and it can melt the next day. There’s nothing to show for it, all your hard work is for nothing.” But it’s not for nothing. We are not just contractors — we’re emergency service providers. We save thousands and thousands of lives every year, just by providing this service. If it didn’t matter, people would not get so emotional about it. It does matter, because we are an industry that truly cares.

Caring to the point of risking our own safety to provide these services, and at the end of the day — we are battling liability, slip-and-fall claims, salt shortages and price hikes. Insurance companies are walking away and choosing to give up the financial risk, leaving us broken and battered, scrambling to get insured so we aren’t losing our businesses — our livelihoods. All of this in an industry that was never our first choice to begin with. Our first passion was landscaping, turf maintenance, asphalt and paving, construction — outside in the beautiful sunshine, the warmth, working in the fresh air and with the earth. Somehow, we ended up in the bitter cold, fighting for our lives — for the safety of others.

Against all this adversity, we have persevered. Snow and ice professionals have gathered and developed the only industry training of its kind on our own. We identified the environmental impacts of salt overuse and partnered with other groups to hire the University of Waterloo to research how much salt is “enough.” As an industry, we have developed standards to help us, and others like us, to grow and succeed. In Ontario, we lobbied and changed the Statute of Limitations period from seven years down to two, and we are working on doing it again with Bill 118. We are an industry that works hard for results. We need to focus our passion and emotion for the good. We provide a service that makes a difference in people’s lives. Emotion is something we feel, it can take control over us, but it’s not quantifiable and can harm us if not used properly. Focus on harnessing that energy and passion toward understanding and educating our teams, our clients and society. Winter has become an illness, and we are the doctors. It’s time that we not only provide professional services but educate people on industry standards, to show the world how we can help them get better.

As we grow and develop, remember that others were once in the same place. Professionally and emotionally, we have all had struggles and successes. Be sure to connect with other contractors and reach out if you have questions or are unsure of how to proceed in any situation. The one thing we are good at is helping each other. Use the shows and events like Congress, Snowposium, SIMA Symposium and others to network, meet and connect. Communicate, learn and grow.

You are never alone.
Nichole Ashton is a winter maintenance professional and Smart About Salt board member.