For facilities where a good reputation is vital, such as hospitals, schools, hotels, health clubs and restaurants, unsafe indoor and outdoor areas can mean short-term as well as long-term financial losses.
Since slip-and-fall accidents are prone to happen in virtually any type of facility, especially during adverse weather conditions in many parts of North America, facility managers and building service contractors should stock ample snow- and ice-melt products, train employees, and apply preventive measures in preparation of the winter season.
Differences in ice melters
Each year in North America, over $2 billion is spent on snow and ice removal and approximately 10 million tons of salt are used.
Facilities looking to ensure the safety of employees and building occupants, while preserving health and the environment, need to know the latest trends in the market.
According to the experts, virtually no new deicers have been created in the past 25 years.
Believe it or not, nearly all ice-melt products are formed by using only five materials.
Most ice-melt products available today are derived or blends of the following: Calcium chloride, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, and urea.
“The majority of ice melters are blended products or 100 percent straight products, such as sodium chloride, calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, etc.,” says Bill Kinney, national sales manager for Frank Miller & Sons. “I believe the most effective products are blends that incorporate the unique qualities of each.”
The main differences between the ice- and snow-melt products on the market today are speed and durability.
Experts say that a main factor in whether or not a deicer can adequately meet speed and durability needs is if the product absorbs or releases heat upon application.
Products that quickly release heat will be more effective over a longer period of time.
An exposed health hazard
Research shows that there are potential harmful side effects to human health when certain types of traditional ice-melt products are used.
For example, some traditional ice-melt products can negatively impact a community’s drinking water, vegetation, and concrete.
Sodium chloride, in particular, has been scrutinized in this regard.
The ingredient, also known as rock salt, has been used since the the 1930s.
However, over the years, the industry has been cautious of rock salt and its potential to severely impact the surrounding environment.
In fact, certain government agencies have considered banning the use of rock salt.
Where to target
Although there haven’t been many changes in the makeup of today’s ice-melt products, there have been improvements in implementing a forward-thinking plan.
“Obviously, entryways are the areas which receive the most traffic and should be emphasized,” notes Kinney.
However, according to Kinney, an effective ice and snow removal plan starts before inclement weather conditions occur.
“The most important technique that is often overlooked or not incorporated is pretreatment. This is especially true for anyone using liquid ice melter. Pretreatment consists of spreading approximately half of the regular application of ice melter before an ice or snow event — this prevents a bonding of the ice to the surface area,” says Kinney. “By doing this the ice is more easily removed and also less ice melter may be used during and after the event.”
Also, relatively new to the market, electric matting systems are available that melt ice/snow and, with an innovative design, drain water off the mat and away from the area.
In addition to helping users increase traction in slippery areas, mats should also be used inside of the facility to prevent tracked-in soil and residue from the melting product.
Also, says Kinney, “Care must be taken to not overuse product, which can result in tracking. Many people are most concerned with the salt residue (which can be easily swept up), but care must also be taken to not overuse calcium or magnesium chloride, which leaves an invisible residue that is slippery in nature on hard surfaces and can stain carpet due to excessive dirt attraction.”
In coming years, the formulas of ice and snow melting products are not likely deviate from traditional offerings.
There has been more pressure on manufacturers to offer environmentally preferable products, but end user demand for performance at a low price seem to be impeding progress.
And, warns Kinney, buyers should be wary of manufacturer’s claims and validate the information.
“It seems every year there is trumpeted a hot new product or additive which will deliver a safer or more effective ice melting product,” says Kinney. “For the most part, these additives would need to be used in high concentrations, which if done, would make them prohibitively expensive for most end users.”
As for the future of these products, “I believe the ice-melt industry will continue to blend products using chloride-based products and these ‘add-ons’ will be used to address consumers’ needs or concerns,” concludes Kinney.
Planning ahead and addressing your facility’s needs are key factors to achieving safety during harsh winter months.