Anyone who has ever stumbled to carry in holiday packages on cold cement, heard weather driving warnings during a winter storm, or watched any episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos is aware of the existence of slip and falls from black ice. But the sad reality is that, unlike the hilarious captions that precede the follies of these moments caught on tape, black ice has serious and dangerous implications for business and homeowners. Research published by the Transportation Research Board, by Dr. Oerberg and colleagues, indicts black ice as the leading cause of pedestrian injuries during cold weather.
Black ice is defined by Dr. Matt Lepparanta as an invisibly thin layer of ice that maintains the visual integrity of the material on which it is formed while presenting particular hazards. Black ice is most often labelled black because of its historical presence on blacktop surfaces (although this thin ice can actually take on various appearances as it simply matches the surface below it).
Black ice is an ever-present reality during winter months. Here are helpful tips for fully preparing for slips in temperature that will prevent slipping on ice. Slip and fall prevention that begins with black ice prevention will mitigate the risks of this hazardous winter condition.
Black ice is mostly thought of as a product of nature. Environmental scientist Dr. G. A. Conway claims that black ice is formed through fluctuating or extremely cold temperatures increase the presence of thin layers of ice, even without visible precipitation. These weather conditions can freeze even the smallest amount of water. And people can reduce the risks of black ice formation by preventing the presence of water available for invisible freezing. The following are actions that can contribute to the presence of black ice.
–Poorly designed or placement of the gutter system. Gutter systems that lack downspout extenders that move water to proper places can contribute to the existence of black ice. Even small amounts of water that are not adequately moved through downspout extensions can pose a risk to creating black ice conditions. In fact, the small amounts of water that would otherwise be unobtrusive or unnoticeable are at the greatest risk because the small amount of water is usually not noteworthy.
–Inadequate drainage system. Water that is stagnant is at risk for freezing as temperatures drop. These small amounts of water may be unnoticed during less cold temperatures, but pose a great risk as temperatures drop. Not having adequate drainage, including contingencies such as leak diverters, can increase the likelihood and amount of water available for becoming black ice.
–Improper snow removal. Remnants of previous snow falls can be particular dangerous as temperatures warm to melt (un)cleared snow during the day and drop to freezing at night. Under these conditions, the melted snow can refreeze into dangerous, thin layers of ice across a multitude of surfaces, including: parking lots, streets, sidewalks, and walkways. Black ice is a particular danger on poorly shoveled outdoor stairways, as the consequences of a fall are heightened and the difficulty of proper snow removal are increased. Improper snow removal also includes fully shoveled snow that is improperly stored. Water that runs off snow piles also poses a great risk for black ice.
Anyone who owns property has an ethical and legal responsibility to maintain properties without risk, including slip and fall preventions. No one wants to see someone hurt. But legal responsibility increases the impact of such a fall. Joseph Perkins, a US legal expert, argues that American businesses are involved in more than 15 million lawsuits each year, which is nearly a new claim every two seconds. All property owners, business owners, landlords, and government entities are responsible for the slips and falls that occur on the properties which are owned or managed by these various organizations. And mitigating risk associated with black ice is important beyond slip and fall prevention. A fall that has occurred on property can be costly. But a slip that is caused by the negligence, or improper preventative measures, is even more expensive. According to veteran litigant lawyer Brenda Frohloff, a recent single case involving a woman who slipped on ice outside of a service station was settled by jury to the amount of $12.2 million because the gas station could not make an argument for preventative efforts. And the risk is beyond just visitors. The Wisconsin Bureau of State Risk Management identifies that slips and falls are one of the leading causes of workers’ compensation claims.
Black ice poses a dangerous risk because of the unforeseeable nature of this hazardous weather condition. A December 2013 news report by CBS claims that black ice injuries are on the rise. A study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee cited these icy conditions as a leading cause to injuries to various parts of the body, including the: brain, back, neck, spinal cord, and hips. Fractures and broken bones are the most likely outcome of a slip or fall on black ice.
According to Dr. Robert DuBois, the best treatments of black ice are always preventative because of the invisible nature of this hazard. It is often too late, and sometimes too difficult, to locate and respond to black ice once it has formed. Black ice prevention, and consequently slip and fall prevention, is the greatest way to mitigate risks during the winter season.
–Keep pathways clear of ice and snow. Make sure that all surfaces for walking and driving are clear of snow and ice. Even the smallest amount of snow can increase the formation of black ice. Be diligent in your duties of clearing walking paths and driveways. And be strategic about where the cleared snow is stored. It should be located in a place that snow pile run-off cannot pose a risk for becoming black ice.
–Downspout extension. A downspout extender can ensure that melting water is deposited into areas safe from traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. Downspout extension is not just important for preventing water from storing near the foundation of a property. Downspout extenders are also important for transporting those waters to places where they pose no threat to becoming black ice.
–Downspout filters (Slick Shield). Downspout filters can increase the effectiveness of drainage systems. Any effort to reduce the stagnation of water greatly increases black ice prevention. These filters are important for making sure that debris does not halt the removal of water. And downspout filters are also useful in managing frozen waters by providing a point for melting and distributing run-off. Our innovative product the Slick Shield prevents black ice that comes from downspouts!
–Use salt or sand (not water). Salt and sand are great tools at black ice prevention. A layer of salt or sand laid across outdoor surfaces, such as sidewalks or walkways, can create a layer of prevention by inhibiting the bonding of frozen water to a hard surface.
Black ice is a reality during the winter months that can have damaging consequences for all. By paying attention to black ice prevention, and slip and fall reduction, can increase the safety for all as the temperatures drop.