As the weather grows colder and the season starts to change, there is less of a need for tree and landscaping services. That’s why many tree care and landscaping companies switch gears to provide snow removal services during the winter months.
Companies that provide snow removal services are called upon to clear roads, parking lots, and driveways. In areas where there are heavy amounts of snowfall, the weight of snow and ice may cause roof damage or cave-ins.
According to OSHA, most of the injuries that occur during snow removal operations are related to falls. Workers can slip and fall on icy sidewalks or driveways. They can slide off roofs or decks, fall off ladders or lifts, or even fall through skylights. After extraordinarily heavy snowfalls, roofs can collapse and cave in, thereby causing injuries to workers attempting to remove snow from them.
Snowplows can get into vehicle accidents when hurrying to or from a job site – or by hitting stationary objects hidden beneath the snow. Lightweight vehicles such as smaller trucks, ATVs, and UTVs may not be able to maintain control of vehicles on icy surfaces, which can lead to injuries or damaged equipment.
Ensuring Safe Working Conditions
Being proactive to avoid accidents from happening is the best way to reduce your risk this winter. Here are a few things to keep in mind when scheduling work during the cold season:
- Limit scheduling workers for snow removal from roofs when possible
- Use safe snow removal procedures that decrease the risk of roofs collapsing
- Educate workers on how to identify electrical and fall hazards
- Supply the right type of equipment for the job
- Train workers on using snow removal equipment safely, including ladders and aerial lifts
- Provide workers with safety and protective equipment, and make sure they are in good working condition
- Ensure all electrical equipment is properly grounded
- Train workers to add fuel to equipment only when engines are cold
- Advise workers to avoid placing hands near running snowblowers to unclog them
- Establish a plan to rescue workers who fall and are suspended in a body harness, or who fall on a safety net or other protection device
- Perform regular maintenance on plow trucks and plows
- Caution drivers about driving at the speed limit
- Require workers to wear warm clothing and proper footwear, including high-visibility wear
- Give workers sufficient breaks to prevent fatigue, which can cause mistakes
Protecting Your Company Against Liability Claims
Well-worded contracts and comprehensive commercial liability insurance can help prevent liability claims for snow removal companies.
Some of the problems snow removal companies face can be solved upfront by establishing the terms of service and conditions, as outlined in a well-written contract. Clearly written contracts help prevent wrongful allegations or complaints from customers. Contracts are legally binding agreements for all parties, so when both parties agree on the expectations of the snow removal service and they have it in writing, there is little room for dispute.
What goes into a responsible service contract?
Contracts should provide a detailed description of the work to be performed. For example, a strong contract might say: “Plow driveway using snowplow, clear sidewalks using a snowblower, and spread salt on the driveway and sidewalks.” The same contract might specify the snow will be pushed to the side of the driveway, but the company will not remove the snow, vs. a more general description of services as “snowplowing” or “clearing snow.”
Contracts should also state when the snow removal company will provide services. For example, snow removal contractors may opt to provide services when there is at least an inch of snow.
Other important components of a contract include terms of payment, guarantees of work, and statements about the snow removal company’s insurance.
Snow removal contractors can protect themselves against claims related to contractual obligations by having an attorney review their contracts before signing them.
Note: The above is for general guidance only and should not be considered legal advice. Seek appropriate counsel for your specific business needs and contracts.
Commercial Insurance Policies
Snow removal companies are served best with the following types of commercial insurance policies: Commercial General Liability, Commercial Auto Insurance, Workers’ Compensation, and Inland Marine Insurance.
Commercial General Liability: This is an important coverage for snow removal contractors to gain protection, and they may be required to carry it as part of a contractual obligation.
General liability covers business owners, employees, and others. It also covers property damage caused by their company. For example, if an employee accidentally damages shingles from a roof or your company was contractually obligated to put salt on the sidewalk in front of a business, fails to do so, and then someone falls on the ice and gets injured. Both of these types of claims would be covered under general liability.
General liability only applies to non-vehicle-related accidents. Accidents involving vehicles are covered under commercial auto insurance.
Commercial Auto Insurance: This coverage pays for losses for accidents involving commercially operated vehicles when used during business hours, such as plow trucks. Due to the potential severity of snowplow accidents, you may want to purchase limits as high as you can afford for both liability and comprehensive coverage, so that you are covered if one of your snowplow drivers hits a person, telephone pole, or another vehicle.
Workers’ Compensation: If your company is anything other than a one-person operation, state laws may require you to carry workers’ compensation coverage. This coverage protects employees who are injured on the job, pays for their medical expenses, and temporarily replaces their wages until they recover.
Inland Marine Insurance: Inland marine insurance covers tools and equipment that get destroyed, stolen, or damaged while being moved on land.
Hopefully, you won’t need to file a claim during the winter season. Nonetheless, always document the work you perform with photos, videos, and notes so that you have detailed records in case you need to file a claim. Be specific about dates, locations, start and stop times, and services performed. Furthermore, be sure to document any unusual problems or conditions they encounter on the job. Standard policies and procedures will help in the event of a potential or actual claim.
NIP Group specializes in insuring tree service and landscaping companies, as well as snow removal companies. Contact us to learn more.