Snow schism

December 18, 2015 -  By
SIMA_snow_schism

Graphic: Landscape Management

SIMA’s new Glossary of Terms highlights a rift between the snow industry’s two associations.

When a 52-year-old woman in Passaic, N.J., slipped and fell in her employer’s parking lot in 2011, the snow management company responsible for the property found itself in an unfortunate, financially-damaging situation. Last month, a jury awarded the woman $2.25 million, according to NJ.com, finding Greg Tanzer Sprinklers & Outdoor Design 30 percent responsible for the fall.

Protecting contractors in slip-and-fall cases is a top priority for the Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA) and the Accredited Snow Contractors Association (ASCA). However, they don’t always agree on the best way to do it.

In September, SIMA released its 19-page Glossary of Terms. It defines 114 terms used in the procuring, selling, planning, implementing and legal defense of professional snow and ice management services in North America.

“Our goal is to create a simple definition that can bring clarity to the industry,” says Brian Birch, COO of SIMA. “When someone gets an RFP for snow services, it’s often very difficult for a contractor to understand what level of service, meaning the outcome of the service, is being sought.”

The Glossary defines contractual and legal terms, operations and service terms, estimating and fee structure terms, weather terms, equipment and technical terms, snow and ice management certification and training terms, and more.

Mike Mason, vice president of the LawnPro, has seen cases where “snow removal” is viewed by insurers and facility managers as hauling all snow off-site, while the contractor views it as snow plowing. The Louisville, Ky.-based company does about $500,000 per year in snow management.

“The benefit is having everybody speak the same language, whether that’s internally in your staff or externally with the client,” Mason says. “It’s going to take some time to get that terminology globally accepted, but I think it can remove some ambiguity on expectations.”

Kevin Gilbride, executive director of ASCA, is critical of SIMA publishing the Glossary—an industry standards document—without accreditation from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), a nonprofit, standards-creating organization.

ASCA’s industry standards document, “System Requirements for Snow and Ice Management Services,” was published in January 2014 after ANSI’s two-and-a-half-year vetting process. It covers a glossary of terms, education and training requirements, preseason site inspection requirements, in-event documentation requirements, post-event process requirements and weather service requirements. The process included a public review of the document and a vote by a “balanced consensus body.” It also includes requirements for considering objections and recirculating any objections to the voting body so it can respond, reaffirm or change its vote.

“The ANSI process lends credibility to a document because it allows for openness and participation by all the affected interests with due process,” says James Thompson, recording secretary of the executive standards council for ANSI.

Specifically, Gilbride questioned the lack of public comment on SIMA’s Glossary.

While ANSI promotes one standards document per industry, there are some cases where two overlapping documents are approved in the same industry. SIMA considered an ANSI accreditation, Birch says, but decided not to pursue it, viewing the process as an added cost without added value. For SIMA, it was imperative to deliver the document for free, rather than making it a revenue-generating mechanism. As of Nov. 9, SIMA’s Glossary had been downloaded 728 times. ASCA’s document comes free with a $400-yearly membership fee; nonmembers must join the organization to access it.

“We wanted to deliver this at no fee to the industry,” Birch says. “If we really want folks to adopt this, we can’t put it behind a fee or a membership firewall, which a lot of associations do.”

SIMA’s process entailed more than 30 professionals from the snow management industry and other related industries, including insurers and facility managers, working together to compile and review the Glossary. As a “living document,” SIMA says it’s reviewed quarterly by the board, which considers any recommended changes, additions or deletions. Among others, the term “zero tolerance,” a point of contention for Gilbride, is currently being reviewed.

“The process we’ve gone through is as transparent and as clear as any standards-creating body out there,” says Birch, who managed the review process. “It’s actually much more intense than what ANSI requires.”

SIMA included facility management professionals in the creation and review process, which its members said they wanted. If the goal is common ground across the industry, facility management professionals must be involved and their opinions must be considered, Birch says.

“We don’t feel that we can create standards or best practices to try to dictate to the audience we’re trying to work with,” he says. “We want to engage them and collaborate with them.”

A silver lining exists in the Glossary dispute, however. Gilbride says it is opening up lines of communication between ASCA and SIMA. While still in “initial stages” and nothing has been agreed to, Gilbride says both sides have decided it’s best for the industry for them to work together.

With each organization strong in different areas, Gilbride says, a united or friendly dialogue could be good for the industry.

“As a nonprofit, SIMA has does a very nice job educating contractors on core values, how to run and grow their smaller businesses into medium or large-sized businesses. They have a successful trade show,” Gilbride says. “As a for-profit association, the ASCA is able to be much more nimble and address bigger picture issues and at times turn on a dime when needed to address those issues such as standards and legislative change.”

Illustration: ©istock.com/pijama61

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