During the winter months, it’s common to see shopping centers and business owners out and about clearing snow and ice from pathways, parking spaces and entrances. But this isn’t just good business to help customers get in the door — it’s also a liability issue should someone slip and fall and injure themselves. Homeowners, too, face similar, albeit more limited, liability if they fail to take adequate steps to remove such slippery hazards from their property.
Generally speaking, homeowners are responsible for limiting dangers on their property, but in some cases, this can also extend to public sidewalks abutting your home. In some localities, governments also require homeowners clear snow and ice or face fines. A regional survey of county and municipal agencies conducted by the Salt Institute found 83 percent have written policies directing property owners to remove accumulated snow and ice “within 24 hours of the end of the snowstorm.” Penalties for property owners not complying can range from nominal tickets, to misdemeanors punishable by up to 90 days in jail, to fines of up to $500.
Shoveling snow is simple, but ice removal is another matter, and nothing works better to remove or prevent ice from forming than salt. Salt lowers water’s freezing point, the temperature at which it changes from a liquid to a solid and vice versa. The most effective way to use salt is to melt the snow or ice that is right at the pavement. If you can do this, then you will find it much easier to shovel the snow or ice from the sidewalk. This process, preventing water from freezing in the first place, is called anti-icing. It is best achieved by putting salt (or some other anti-icing material) down on the sidewalk when a freeze or a snowfall is expected. In contrast, melting water already frozen is called deicing and in this case salt is applied once ice appears. It still works, but is less efficient than anti-icing.
Commercially available anti-icing materials include salt (sodium chloride), calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium acetate and calcium magnesium acetate. Each has its advantages and disadvantages but salt remains the best choice for use at temperatures above 15 degrees Fahrenheit (-9.4 degrees Celsius). For extremely low temperatures, look for a mixture using calcium or magnesium chloride instead.
Laws regarding snow and ice clearing vary by state and from locality to locality, but most mandate some action must be taken within a reasonable time period (often 24 hours) after it stops snowing. For example, the Illinois Snow and Ice Removal Act states that any owner who “removes or attempts to remove snow or ice from sidewalks abutting the property shall not be liable for any personal injuries allegedly caused by the snowy or icy condition of the sidewalk resulting from his or her acts or omissions unless the alleged misconduct was willful or wanton.”
The dangers from slips and falls should not be taken lightly, especially for the elderly. Each year thousands are rushed to emergency rooms as a result of icy falls with injuries that could have easily been prevented. One enterprising hospital, St. Vincent’s in Indianapolis, Indiana even decided to give away road salt to local residents to try and prevent such injuries and the resulting emergency room visits. In the end, the person who is most likely to slip and fall is the homeowner themselves.