LILLEY: High cost of fuel, insurance and lawsuits hit snowplow drivers

05 Oct 2023 3:10 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

High costs means fewer snowplows on the road the road this winter | Toronto Sun

An association representing snowplow operators is warning many roads and parking lots may not be cleared this coming winter.

Higher fuel costs, skyrocketing insurance and an increase in slip and fall lawsuits is seeing many contractors decide to leave the business.

Landscape Ontario, which represents more than 8,000 small businesses, is warning the Ford government that unless changes are made to legislation and regulations, things will only get worse.

“There is a very real danger that the declining numbers of snow and ice contractors will result in a lack of service for many municipalities and organizations,” the group said in a recent briefing to the province.

Already, some municipalities have had difficulty getting contractors to bid on work. Last winter, the Town of Blue Mountains had to take the clearing of 15 parking lots in-house after no contractors submitted bids.

The problems facing the industry are complex and the result of at times competing interests.

Environmentally, everyone would like to see less salt used in snow and ice clearing operations. Overuse of salt can damage water systems and the land around where the salt is applied, but at the same time clients are demanding that operators use extra salt to avoid situations that could lead to a lawsuit after someone slips and falls on a slippery piece of pavement.

Those lawsuits are part of the reason insurance costs have been rising for snow and ice contractors as well. According to Lanscape Ontario, one company saw insurance rates jump from $70,000 to $234,000 in a single year.

“The availability, capacity, and price of insurance is unstable, and many contractors are being driven out of the industry, and without meaningful change from government, the problem will only get worse,” the association has warned the government.

While insurance costs are going up, fewer companies are offering insurance services to the industry, a problem not restricted to snow removal, but one that drives up costs due to a lack of competition just the same.

Landscape Ontario is asking the Ford government for a couple of changes on this front.

The industry group is asking for the government to work with them on a curriculum and certification program and to establish technical standards for operators. Once they have everyone working on a clear set of standards, they’d like the province to establish limited liability protections to accredited owners, site managers, and snow management contractors.

Without that they say, the industry will remain stuck, open to frivolous lawsuits or lawsuits where what is being claimed is beyond their control due to quickly changing weather conditions or poor site design.

While most major cities perform most of their snow clearing operations in-house, they still contract out parts of it, especially during big storms. Beyond that, smaller municipalities, especially small rural areas, often contract out more of their services.

Without a healthy industry, which would include competition, the cost of clearing snow and ice across Ontario will only go up. That’s if the municipality, shopping mall, church or other organization can even find a contractor.

The Ford government already made some changes in response to concerns of the group in 2020. Whether they can make more changes that will assist them in the short term, to keep operators in the business, remains to be seen.

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