Sidewalks covered in ice and snow — thanks to a recent blast of winter and colder temperatures — have wreaked havoc on residents of the Lower Mainland.
Slips and falls are currently the second-leading cause of injuries for staff working in the homecare sector, according to SafeCare BC.
One local care provider, the Greater Vancouver Community Services Society, reports they have had a 600 per cent increase in injuries in December compared to the previous month. In November, the society said it recorded seven incidents compared to 41 in December.
“It is critical that homecare workers can get around safely throughout the region to ensure they can provide the vital care that is required for our elderly population living at home,” Jennifer Lyle, executive director for SafeCare BC said in a statement.
“Reports from our members are coming in that many of their staff are getting injured on icy sidewalks and side streets, which is leading to more WorkSafeBC claims.”
Lyle said they’re “strongly encouraging” both the municipalities and citizens to do their part in keeping streets and sidewalks accessible to care staff, so seniors can maintain their normal activity.
Although care providers have given their staff ice cleats, in many cases SafeCareBC says it’s not enough and that over the past five years the homecare sector has filed 706 WorkSafeBC claims due to slips and falls. Those claims come in at a total cost of almost $6.8 million.
In many places, it’s required by law for property owners to clear their property of ice and snow within a reasonable timeframe. In Vancouver, residents must clear their property by 10 a.m. after a snowfall (or face a penalty of $250 or more).
Although it’s a law in Vancouver, some of the worst compliance has been witnessed in the city’s wealthy Shaughnessy neighbourhoods.
Global News recorded about half the sidewalks in the affluent area hadn’t been cleared on Thursday afternoon, four days after the last snow fall and one day before more snow is expected to hit the region.
Some residents of the multi-million-dollar homes claim the act of shoveling was too much work, despite knowing about the bylaws.
“We’re trying, but it’s really icy so it’s just hard to shovel,” one woman said while standing in front of her home where neither the driveway nor the sidewalks had been cleared.
Earlier in the week, Jerry Dobrovolny, General Manager of Engineering for the City of Vancouver, said the City is ramping up its response.
Dobrovolny said the City has already used over 7,000 tonnes of salt this year, seven times the amount used last year. He said City crews have been salting “day and night” throughout the holidays.
On any given day, Dobrovolny said anywhere between 14 and 44 pieces of equipment are out cleaning the streets, depending on what the needs are.
He said, because of the increasingly icy conditions, the City had to essentially shut down non-emergency construction work and re-deploy those crews into other priority areas.
Lyle said Vancouver is already facing a “critical shortage” of homecare workers and losing more staff to preventable injuries will only exacerbate the issue.
Ways to keep your sidewalks and pathways clear
Whether it’s a local shortage or just running out of salt, here are some alternatives to make your property safer.
Household items — There are likely some options in your home right now to help with icy walkways, but many come with a catch:
- Table salt will help melt ice, but if it is fine grind it’s unlikely to provide the similar traction as that of larger chunks of rock salt commonly used for icy surfaces.
- Sugar doesn’t work as quickly as salt, but it will lower water’s freezing point. It’s also better to use than salt as far as pets’ paws and plants are concerned.
- Coffee grinds can be used to provide traction (yes, even after they’ve been used for your morning coffee) but be aware that caffeine can be toxic to pets.
- Pickle brine helps with ice melt with temperatures as low as -21 C. It’s also better for the environment than traditional rock salt, releasing less chloride, National Geographic reports.
- Bird seed won’t help with melting, but it will provide traction.
- Cat litter will provide traction, but only when you use the kind that doesn’t clump. Fresh Step warns its scoopable version will cause a “slippery mess.”
Heated mats — If you’re willing to pay big bucks, rubber waterproof heated mats will provide a snow and ice-free surface.
Sand — Sand is commonly used on roads and sidewalks to help with traction and to break down the buildup of ice and snow so it can be more easily cleared. However, it’s not your regular old beach sand — it’s mixed with salt to prevent clumping and to make it stick to ice or snow. This can often be bought in home hardware and other stores. But be warned — it can create a mess and might need to be washed from surfaces when the weather sufficiently warms.
Elbow grease — Get out the shovel: one of the best ways to prevent icy surfaces is through diligent snow clearing. The good news? Shovelling is a great way to burn a few calories and get some fresh air.
WATCH: B.C. man protects the public from icy sidewalks with axe
~ with files from Jill Slattery and Tania Kohut