‘Tis the Season to be Sanding

Person spreading dry sand on slippery steps

Although the holiday season may be behind us, winter is definitely just getting started. For many of us that means sleet, snow, and freezing rain.  Whether working from home or traveling to your job, everyone needs to be prepared to treat the slippery conditions that are common in parking areas and on walkways. Slip and fall injuries continue to be a serious safety issue we just cannot ignore.

There are many products on the market that can be used for deicing and/or traction enhancement. Effectiveness varies as does cost and ease of application. Regardless of which product is used there are a few fundamental truths. None of them work if they are not applied, reapplication is often required for any extended benefit, and engaging many people in the effort will certainly result in better outcomes. Developing a plan and assigning those responsible for carrying out the plan consistently is a starting point. Our previous post, “Target Mapping to Prevent Slips, Trips, and Falls” contains information that will help you identify problem areas where deicing efforts should be focused. Determining the right product and the method of application comes next. 

For generations sand has been the standard for traction enhancement in winter weather. It is likely the least expensive product, is effective at any temperature, and is more environmentally friendly than other products. However, sand simply increases the coefficient of friction and does not actually melt snow or ice. Bulk storage takes up a lot of space as well. Many businesses struggle with sand cleanup as it is tracked into buildings or garages and come spring, you’ll have a cleanup project to undertake wherever it was applied.  

Rock Salt (Sodium Chloride, NaCL), the most commonly used deicer that has been a staple for melting ice/snow for years. Salt is also a relatively inexpensive product that will effectively melt snow and ice down to 0 F. It can also have a traction enhancing property below zero degrees although it will not melt ice or snow at those colder temperatures. 

But, as we know, salt can be corrosive to concrete and steel, and can burn vegetation near application areas. Melting snow will dilute salt and require reapplication, and the runoff can affect fresh water sources such as streams and ponds. Lastly, rock salt can be painful to animals’ paws. Keep the office dog away from areas where salt has been applied. It can also cause stomach upset and diarrhea if the salt is licked off the paws by the animal. Pet friendly deicers are readily available although significantly more expensive and effectiveness varies. These chemical mixtures generally include magnesium chloride, calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), and urea. Although marketed as “pet friendly” they can still be irritating for dogs- they are simply less irritating than pure salt.

Liquid deicers are not new to the market and we tend to see road crews utilizing liquid deicers more and more.  Chemical compounds vary but include CMA, magnesium chloride, ethylene glycol, or mixtures of these chemicals. They vary in toxicity and effectiveness, but often claim to be effective down to -20 F. Less space is required for storage and they do penetrate surfaces and stay in place longer than salt or sand. Environmental impact also varies and corrosion to vehicles and damage to interior flooring (as it is tracked inside) is a significant drawback for some of these liquids.

So, what is the best solution?  Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic bullet.  Each product has its merits and down falls.  The best solution begins with talking to a snow removal expert to see what product, or combination of products will work best for you and your facility. Then implementing a comprehensive plan that includes plowing and shoveling of all parking areas and walking surfaces, treating surfaces as needed, using signage to increase awareness, and engaging all employees in this safety effort. Providing small containers of ice melt at doorways so it’s readily available to any person entering or leaving the building can also make a huge difference.

Lastly, traction enhancing devices such as the K1 ice cleat can significantly reduce the likelihood of slipping and falling on the ice this winter. These ice cleats are a great addition to your company’s winter preparedness plan. They provide extra traction in snow/ice and can be easily rotated when entering a building or vehicle. There is no need to remove the cleats making consistent use more likely. MEMIC policyholders are eligible for discount pricing; for more information contact us at SafetyDirector@memic.com.

For additional information on winter safety and slip/fall prevention check out these resources:  OSHA Winter Weather, MEMIC’s Winter Safety, or Ice Alert Pedestrian Safety.