Is the current salt shortage a real thing?

No doubt, for a variety of reasons, the supply of salt (sodium chloride, NaCl) available for winter maintenance is diminished at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that there may not be enough to get us through the winter. After all, science increasingly supports the fact that the product is more often than not over applied. So perhaps, with using best management practices (BMPs), and a little help from Mother Nature, we have just enough.

Poor winter maintenance practices and an over-application of salt is an increasing challenge and complicated issue. De-icing products like sodium chloride (NaCl), the very same product we put on our French fries, are necessary for safety, but arguably perceptions versus realities regarding liability, the lack of knowledge around how salt works (salt doesn’t work well at all below -7C, 19F), when it should be used, and even changes in societal expectations are contributing to an overapplication.

So, what can be done to work smarter and use salt wisely? Here are some helpful suggestions:

  • The procurement process and the resulting contracts should incentivize contracts to use best management practices (BMP): Get in front of winter events by checking weather forecasts, consider using salt brine to extend the supply of salt, shovel before salting, and maintain good records;
  • In Canada, liability concerns cannot be contracted away, so the winter maintenance professional and their clients should try to cooperate. For example, before a storm event, site assessments should be undertaken. If leaky downspouts and low spots are identified and fixed, then the ice that invariably might accumulate could be mitigated;
  • Consider reducing the areas that needs winter maintenance through the use of signage. Larger buildings with multiple entrance doors can often benefit from this strategy;
  • Work collaboratively to help customers and their clients embrace winter. Global warming aside, we live in Canada, it will snow. Winter shoes and snow tires are a good idea; and,
  • Those on the frontlines should be fully and regularly trained so that leading practices in winter maintenance are well understood and put into practice. This includes property owners and operators, and might even extend to certification for those that want to demonstrate their professionalism and knowledge.

As the negative effects of salt become better understood, i.e. the corrosion to facilities, the negative impacts on our environment, the liability associated with over application, the increasingly profound economic challenge to business, etc., we are forced to collectively change our approach to winter. Many organizations and jurisdictions are addressing the challenge. Driven by economic concerns, New Hampshire developed its Green SnowPro program that, through legislation, provides indemnification against legal claims for professionals that have taken state-sponsored training that is put into practice. Governments, professionals, conservation groups, and businesses alike have taken notice of the program’s successes and are actively exploring its adoption for their state or province.

The Smart About Salt Council (SASC) is a registered not-for-profit organization that operates collaboratively throughout North America and offers training to improve winter salting practices on facilities and recognizes industry leaders through certification. Learn more at www.smartaboutsalt.com.

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