Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year in Review 2014

For the ASCA and its membership, this was another year defined by milestones and accomplishments. The association was founded on four pillars, and as the industry continues to embrace the ASCA’s mission, we continue to fulfill our membership’s mandate to bring positive change to the professional snow and ice management industry.

Industry Standards

The basis of everything ASCA, the Industry Standards reached the pinnacle of validation in January when we were accredited by the American National Standards Institute. These standards, now known as “System Requirements For Snow and Ice Management Services; ANSI document #: ANSI/ASCA A100-2014.” The ASCA Industry Standards committee worked tirelessly to produce these standards, and then worked diligently to get them accredited by ANSI.

Standards provide the basic best practices a snow and ice management company must abide by to be recognized as professional. Following standards not only shows property managers you are an industry professional, but they serve as a legitimate defense in a slip-and-fall lawsuit. These standards encourage thorough documentation, which is a key tool in defending yourself against such claims.

In the end, the ANSI accreditation is the most credible designation a standard can have. ASCA members received the ANSI Standard as soon as it was approved

Education

ASCA-C education continues to have a positive impact on the industry. To date, nearly 300 individuals are earning certification. ASCA-C education ensures you are well versed on industry standards, risk management, and best practices. In all, with nearly 5,000 courses taken, ASCA-C is having a positive impact on the industry and is earning recognition from outside the professional snow and ice management industry.

Verification

The ISO 9001/SN 9001 quality management system is beginning to take hold in the industry. Initially intimidating, many contractors, once engaged in the process, found they were over complicating the matter and dove in to earn certification.

ISO 9001 validates the processes and procedures you have in place to ensure service quality, while SN 9001 ensures you have implemented the industry standards into your company.

To date, nine companies have achieved the ISO 9901/SN9001 designation. This is the first year in which companies really began to pursue the auditing program. With dozens of other companies beginning the process, we expect 2015 to be an exceptional year for this program.

Positive Legislative Changes

For a number of years, the ASCA has been active at the Federal level. While in previous years we had been active at some state-level initiatives, in 2014 we really dove in to laying the ground work for substantial state legislative initiatives. Beginning in Trenton N.J., we kicked off the spring with what one New Jersey insider described as the most impressive legislative day ever. We then headed to Springfield, Ill., to do the same. There we laid the groundwork for legislative change. We also have been working behind the scenes to do the same in other states. We expect 2015 to be a big year for implementing these initiatives in a number of key snow states.

At the Federal level, we continue to focus on lawsuit abuse and spent time in Washington DC to drive home this message. Meeting mostly with Senators and there key staffers, ASCA members spoke passionately about how legislative change would impact their businesses. We are always pleased with the positive reception we receive in DC.

In the end, the four pillars of the ASCA were established to change how the outside world looked at our industry and your businesses. In the short time we have been active, we are already seeing the impact.

The last year marked the first-ever insurance carrier recognizing the ASCA’s educational certification, and offering more competitive rates to those that are ASCA-C. Impressed with the verification system, they began offering deeper discounts to those that were ISO 9001/SN 9001 certified.

Finally, 2014 marked the first time a property management company began asking about ASCA certifications (both ASCA-C and ISO/SN 9001) in an RFP. This is a huge milestone because this will be the norm in a few years.

When I look back, I could not be prouder of the ASCA membership and our staff. It is your commitment to the four pillars and to the ASCA initiatives that makes this possible.

Have a happy New Year!

Kevin Gilbride is the Executive Director of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association and the Publisher of Snow Magazine.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas from the ASCA!


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us at the ASCA and Snow Magazine!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Old Dog, New Tricks

I used to think I knew a lot about being a snow contractor. I’ve been working Northeast Ohio snow and ice events since the 1970s. I know who the professionals are in my market, who the frauds are, and the manner in which we must conduct ourselves to be taken seriously. I believe being a professional snow and ice manager is an honorable business and a necessary service, one I’m proud to have made a career out of.

So I certainly qualify for old-dog status. That’s why I was leery when I first heard about the formation of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association. I’ve never been big on trade associations, but I was giving them the benefit of the doubt because they were local guys and it was associated with Snow Magazine, a publication I’ve been a big fan of for years.

My involvement in the ASCA has added to the professionalism that I have always maintained throughout my career and the way I approach the business of snow and ice management. Besides the association’s involvement in legislative issues and its initiatives to bring about positive change, the ASCA has exposed me to like-minded constituents looking to improve and develop positive change and who believe in the same values and principals I’ve built my company, Abraxus Snow and Ice Management, around.

Before I joined, I didn’t appreciate the strategic value that comes from fostering relationships with contractors in markets other than my own. When I first joined I was confident I had a lot to offer. However, I never realized how much I could still learn from other business owners who are facing the same obstacles and challenges but in diverse markets like Boston, Chicago and New York. This is one of the doors my involvement with the ASCA has opened for me, and now I call these fellow business owners not only my colleagues, but also my friends.

Case in point, I recently set up a Facebook account to better communicate and stay connected with these new-found friends and colleagues. So what does that tell you?

So I laugh whenever it’s suggested that you can’t teach an old dog like me new tricks. I’m proof that you can... just ask my new friends.

Frank Dedon is the founder and president of Abraxus Snow and Ice Management in Cleveland, Ohio.  He is also a 2012 Leadership Award recipient.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Know Your Quote

Dealing with insurance can be a pain.  And figuring out how your quote is created can be even worse.  We sat down with Matt Peterson, Snow Magazine's insurance expert, to unravel what goes into your quote and how you can get the best rates possible.

1.  Matt, walk us through the typical process that goes into generating an insurance quote for a snow contractor? In essence, how you determine that monetary figure? Is there a formula or equation, and if so what is it?

This question sort of reminds me of the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon about how a bill becomes a law. Seriously, though, I can best answer this from the perspective of the process Mill’s Insurance Group goes through when assessing a snow and ice management professional for insurance coverage.

First, we verify that we are working with an ASCA member, and if so are they certified (ASCA-C). If they’re a member but not certified, then how far along in the process is the member to earning their ASCA-C and ISO 9001/SN 9001 certification?

Next, the contractor completes the SRIB application, which is a six-page questionnaire that helps us get a good understanding of operations, industry standards and other insurance factors or indicators. The application is important and will demonstrate a level of knowledge about the operations and the risk awareness that a member may have.

If the account is a fit for the Snow Removal Insurance Brokerage, the ASCA endorsed insurance program, then underwriting Process may be extensive. As we all know, the snow and ice management industry is a unique and complicated industry, so the underwriting will encompass the review of accident info from claims history for the past 5 years as well as a review of the contracts to identify how much risk is assumed in the contracts that a member has with its clients. We are looking at the jobs the insured has, but it is just as important to the carrier’s the type and quality of those contracts. At this time, the contractor or the agent should explain to the underwriter why this contract is good bet to insure. The type of contract the snow removal company signs can fit into different categories which helps determine premium. Underwriters will also identify if operations are in line or out of step with industry standards along with other risk factors we identify from the snow application that is completed. The amount of risk assumed in a contract is also an aid in determining the possible severity of future losses a carrier may experience.

Following this review, either a quote is offered or a declination is made or further clarifications are needed. If a member qualifies, we will rate the account using actuary governed rates, and applying any credits or debits based on the information gathered and the unique attributes of that company.

As ASCA members hear about all year long, we will review the contracts that they sign, which is the most time consuming part of the underwriting process, and a new area in which the carriers are placing a heavy focus.Our efforts in working so closely with the ASCA and the snow and ice management industry has allowed greater insight to the operations and the problems the industry faces. We take the time to educate and work with the insurance carriers, claims personnel, inspection companies and underwriting departments to make sure that everyone is up to date on the real issues.

2.  What’s the most common misconception contractors have about the quote-generation process?

There are so many common misconceptions about this process. One, is that a member is not ready to work with us. The snow and ice management company that calls us for insurance help is not going to be perfect. We understand this. And you don’t need to clean your house to get it ready for the cleaning company, right?

The insurance program was designed for ASCA members, it has been well thought out and with both insurance carrier and the snow and ice management industry in mind. It will only improve and we know that the operations of each ASCA member will make improvements as well.

Another big misconception is that an ASCA member is getting the preferred products, when in fact they didn’t. If you are an ASCA member and you didn’t get insurance through our office, then you are not with the program. We can reward and underwrite a member based on its own merits, but have a product that was developed for the snow and ice management industry. Our underwriters, staff, claims personnel and company is on the front line of the changes in the industry.   

3.  What can a snow contractor do to positively influence this process/formula to produce a more financially feasible figure for their company? 

That’s a great questions, and one snow and ice managers inquire about on a regular basis. Here are some tips to any contractor doing business in this industry:
  • Operate in accordance with the Industry Standards
  • Subscribe to a reputable weather service
  • Avoid signing unfair service contracts, Instead, develop a contract that the property owner signs instead of the other way around.
  • Take the initiative to change internal operating procedures in response to past claims to prevent them from happening again
  • Become ASCA-C and earn your ISO 9001/SN 9001


4.  If a contractor has the periodic slip-and-fall claim against his operation, how long is an incident a blemish on his record, and thus a negative factor in determining their insurance quote? Can anything be done to circumvent any financial penalties due to a slip-and-fall claim?

The pain associated with a severe claim can hang on the insured for up to 5 years with respect to reviewing the claims history, as we stated earlier, we require 5 years of loss runs in order to underwrite a file. Having a devastating claim can effect an insurance premium but it is also good to have something on file from the insured advising what they have done to avoid that type of claim in the future and what types of additional safety measures have been put in place to ensure a safer and less claims-prone worksite for the future. How did the insured learn from the mistake if any mistake was made? Was a certain property responsible for the loss?  

5.  When a contractor in good standing is looking to grow his business by taking on additional work/properties, does this growth impact their insurance quote? (ie, additional properties = additional risk = higher insurance) And if so, how can they work with their insurance provider to make the new quote manageable?


Growth will impact the insurance quote, not in terms of additional properties per say, but from the increase in the amount of sales they would have previously accounted for by adding on those additional jobs. The additional contracts can also affect the pricing, depending on how they are slotted in terms of contractual obligation on the insured vs. property owner. The premiums are proportionate to the loss probability, more specifically relating to the chances of a slip and falls from a third party from the increased growth.

We would never want the insured to feel discouraged to grow their business out of fear of higher insurance premiums, but we do need them to understand that there will be an increase if the likely hood of claim has increased. To make anything work long term, all sides must have a voice at the table, which includes the insurance carrier’s side. However, as sales increase, our rate reduces; this will aid the insured come audit time if they have higher sales basis from the beginning of the policy. If the insured reports a lower sales figure to save money at binding, the rate would be higher than it would’ve been had they used a higher sales figure, and the audit would then be based on that higher rate.

The snow and ice management contractor is faced with a tough decision and a new normal for insurance premiums and processes. We understand this difficulty and are working hard to improve the overall product for this industry. I can tell the industry first hand, that behavior is changing and this industry is working harder plus smarter today based on the work from the ASCA and its members.

Matt Peterson is president of Mills Insurance Group in New Jersey.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ben Franklin's Important Lesson

In 1733, Benjamin Franklin realized an opportunity to improve the practice of fighting fires after visiting Philadelphia and noting its fire-suppression tactics. Upon returning to Boston, Ben put quill to paper and authored an anonymous letter to the local newspaper offering standards and improvements to be made for putting out fires. Needless to say, this got the public’s attention. Dec. 7, 1736, Union Fire Company, the first staffed fire brigade, was formed laying the foundation for the next 275 years of fire protection in America. And as a result, we often refer to Franklin as the “Father of the Fire Service.” And as the fire service evolved it adopted impeccable standards, designed its own education, made certifications mandatory, and executes constant training. This is why they have the respect of so many other trades and citizens.

Is this any different than the changes set in motion by the ASCA for the professional snow and ice management industry since September 2012?

Today, certifications and continuing education requirements are the norm to operate in a variety of industries and trades – working on cars, fixing computers, fertilizing lawns and even cutting hair, to name a few. In fact, hair stylists and barbers must display at all times their license in plain view of the customer. I’ve been in the snow and ice management industry since 1998 and I can’t remember ever having to provide a customer tangible qualifications – other than proof of insurance – that I could, in fact, do the job in a professional manner. It’s something that’s never set well with me because I don’t view myself as a company operating in a sub-standard, second-rate industry?

In fact, I feel quite the opposite. A properly managed and operated snow and ice management company should sell safety to their customers while limiting liability to all involved. What separates you from the guy who buys a truck equipped with a plow and goes after jobs with cut-rate pricing? Sure, he may be a skilled truck driver, shows up on time and is affordable to the customer, but he is set up for failure.

The way we educate and train our workers, the preseason inspections and the in-event documentation are all ways we separate ourselves from substandard operators. Education and training are vital elements not only internally, but also to deliver the highest level of customer service. Whether it is a seasoned employee or a first-year sub, that individual is the face of the company when working the job site. A well-educated team that is also properly trained functions safer and more efficiently, leading to less operational chaos during a storm and healthier margins.

How do you know if you are doing it right? Should we be operating without certifications, just hoping we are doing it right? That is a Plaintiff’s Attorney’s dream. The ASCA has written industry standards for professional snow and ice management. It has also created a certification process (ASCA Certified) based on these standards and supported through online curriculum and a continuing education program. In addition, the ISO SN9001 designation further guides us and holds us to the highest level of professionalism we should all aspire to practice.

Nearly 300 years later, I’m sure Ben Franklin would approve of what we’re doing for the betterment of our industry.

Kyle Rose is owner and president of Rose Property Maintenance in Shawnee, Kan. He is also an ASCA member.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

5 Fatal Contract Mistakes

The 2014-2015 contract season is well underway for many contractors, but there are five key areas to watch out for.  Make sure you have protected your business the right way by following the ASCA's legal advisor Josh Ferguson's tips below.  To hear more from Josh on this topic and other legal issues facing our industry, tune in to Snow Magazine's free webinar on Friday, December 12th at 12pm EST.  Click here to register.


1.  Everyone's John Hancock
First off, I often see contracts that are not signed by all parties.  If a contract is not either fully executed, or executed in counterparts, it is simply not enforceable.  The simple solution is to make sure your file contains a fully executed contract.  Additionally, the contract should have a section that permits signing in counterparts, meaning that not everyone has to sign on the same document.  If the property owner/manager signs on one contract and the snow plow contractor signs on another contract, then it would be considered fully executed.

2.  Just say when
Often the duration of the service to be completed is left out of the contract.  The length of the contract is incredibly important. The exact dates the contract should be enforced need to be detailed clearly in the terms.  For example, if it's for only one winter, the contract should state: "This agreement shall remain in effect for the season starting November 15, 2014 and ending April 15, 2015 unless earlier terminated pursuant to this agreement or by applicable law."

3.  Unfinished business
Another major problem I see is the scope-of-work section does not properly detail the how, when and where the contractor will perform operations.  Even when there is sufficient detail, there is language that puts unfair, unattainable, and unrealistic requirements on the contractor.  For example, avoid "continuous" (i.e., "continuous service" or "continuous monitoring"); "bare pavement," "zero tolerance," or "slip-free conditions."  Instead, use words that permit servicing within a reasonable period of time and service that is consistent with Industry Standards.

4.  The Almighty's role
Fourth, the contract must contain language to limit responsibility for acts of God or other events out of the contractor's control.  For example, delays in performance caused by strikes, weather conditions and inability to obtain material.  This language is often missing and could play a role in defending claims from the property owner/manager for failure to perform duties, as well as claims from a slip-and-fall plaintiff.

5.  Bad language
Lastly, the indemnification and hold-harmless language is one of the most misunderstood sections of a contract. As a result, I see contractors sign and ask questions later.

Depending on whether the language is beneficial to the contractor or not, it can impact the liability of the parties, including the obligation to defend and indemnify. This language increases exposure, as the snow contractor's carrier will have to represent not only the insured, but also the indemnified parties.

It is incredibly important to avoid language that requires the contractor and their carrier to provide defense and indemnification in the following scenarios: (1) based solely on allegation in the Complaint (look for the words "threatened or alleged"), or (2) without regard to whose act or omission could have caused the alleged condition.