Clearing the Way to a Better Future

By Tammy Johnson

Back in 1996, when a handful of contractors sat in the basement of John Allin’s house and hammered out the details of what would become the Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA), it is easy to surmise none of them had a clue as to the changes that would occur in the industry because of what they were doing that weekend. Sure, they wanted to see some organization come to the industry; they wanted to put snow plow contractors together so that they could learn from one another; and they even thought about how the ideas of those actually using the equipment might help manufacturers meet the needs of snow and ice management contractors. Even though the members of this group were obviously forward-thinking contractors, none of them at the time used the words “risk manager” to describe themselves. It is also doubtful they discussed meeting with state representatives and congressmen and women to discuss frivolous lawsuits. None of them realized the impact that they would have on this industry.

Plow jockey to risk manager

Although we may still hear the term “plow jockey” to describe a snow contractor, it is no longer the norm, nor is it acceptable in today’s society. Individuals can still buy a plow, throw it on their pickup truck and hang out their shingle; and that is NOT a bad thing. However, it doesn’t take long for that individual to realize that there is so much more to being successful in this industry. The industry has grown way beyond the plow jockey moniker. Today’s snow and ice management contractors must stay abreast of ongoing changes in this ever-changing industry. They must be cognoscente of the liabilities associated with the white industry. Professional snow and ice management contractors look at each property to ascertain which areas need special attention in order to help the property manager/owner to mitigate risk. They must understand the concept of thaw and refreeze; know where snow should and should not be piled; have a good understanding of the various chemicals, and when and how they should be applied; and they must take advantage of the many forms of education that is available to stay abreast of the industry. Risk managers in the snow industry are professionals who take their jobs keeping the public safe seriously.

Slip and falls

This evolutionary change has been necessary, due, in part, to the litigious society in which we live. There was a time when if an individual slipped and fell on some ice, they looked around in embarrassment to make sure nobody saw them. They stood up, wiped themselves off, and went on with their day. Today, the embarrassment is gone, and although they still look around to see if someone saw them, it is because they want a witness to their fall. They no longer scold themselves for not wearing their boots, but instead see dollar signs flash before their eyes as they consider how much this slip and fall might rake in.

Our legal system is there for those that are genuinely hurt because of negligence, but, unfortunately, the number of frivolous law suits has been on the rise. So much so that the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act was recently re-introduced to Congress after it failed to leave the subcommittee during their previous session. In an effort to get this law passed, the Accredited Snow Contractors Association (ASCA) rallied in Washington in late July. Thirty professional snow and ice management contractors met with House representatives to discuss the impact of these frivolous lawsuits on the snow and ice management industry. These individuals represented the entire industry that day. Only time will tell how big their efforts will pay off.

Looking ahead

ASCA has introduced industry standards and used those standards to bring ISO Certification to the snow and ice management industry. Although it is still very much in its infancy, the true professionals in this industry will pursue this certification, thus pushing themselves to even higher standards. Eventually, property owners and managers will begin to demand their snow and ice management contractors are certified in some fashion, whether it is through the SIMA CSP program, the ASCA accreditation, or the ISO Certification. Property owners and managers want professionals, they want risk managers, and soon they will realize they can make a difference in this industry simply by holding their snow and ice management contractor to high standards.

The founders of SIMA, sitting in that basement back in 1996, may not have considered themselves “risk managers;” they may not have thought about meeting with House representatives; and they may not have realized the impact they would have on this industry — but they were risk managers. Their efforts brought about changes that have had a big impact on the industry.

Just like the founders of SIMA, those ASCA members who recently visited Washington, D.C., met with House representatives, and pushed for legislative reform, are industry leaders. Their vision of a better tomorrow is pushing them to become involved today. Change does not occur overnight — often it takes years. And the biggest changes are yet to come. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Formerly the executive director of the Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA) from 1996-2006, Tammy Johnson, MBA, CAE, is the executive director of the Snowfighters Institute, located in Erie, PA. She can be reached at 814-455-1991 or via e-mail at  

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