'This weather pattern is similar to many other parts of North America, creating a challenge the snow and ice industry has faced before: limited to quickly diminishing access to rock salt and similar ice management materials.'
By Martin Tirado, CAE
It’s been a cold, snowy winter for most of North America. Here at the SIMA headquarters in Milwaukee, WI, we are facing the coldest temperatures in 20 years and we have not yet reached the halfway point for winter. This weather pattern is similar to many other parts of North America, creating a challenge the snow and ice industry has faced before: limited to quickly diminishing access to rock salt and similar ice management materials.
In the last week, SIMA’s phones and emails have been full with members asking where they can obtain additional supplies of these important materials. SIMA has quickly sent out a request to our salt member suppliers to inquire the status of available inventory, types of products available, and where they can be accessed or shipped to. The responses are not good news. Essentially, suppliers have inventory to fulfill orders made prior to the winter season, but nothing beyond that. If you aren’t a current customer, you may be stuck. Even speaking with some members, their suppliers have informed them that inventories are either very low or out, which will certainly leave some contractors without the necessary materials to perform their job.
Contrary to some thoughts, according to the Salt Institute, there is technically not a shortage of salt and ice management materials, it’s a distribution channel issue as getting salt from mine to contractor warehouse takes time. Increased cold weather has created freezing at some shipping ports, further enhancing this problematic situation. So now what to do? Consider these options:
- Start Talking - Communicate proactively with your customers. Like you, they may not like what they are hearing, but this is a supply and demand material issue that is out of your control. No one likes surprises, if you have contracts where rock salt is needed, your customer will want to know if there are areas that will not have rock salt applied.
- Focus on Priority Areas - Once you have communicated with your customer, focus on high priority areas of properties. Think about the areas that are most critical to safety and where your customer has told you are necessary to have clear of snow and ice. Your pre-season site plan will come in handy here, use whatever amount you have in inventory on these areas.
- Use a SIMA Resource - Download SIMA’s press release on this issue here. Share this with your customer to make them further aware of the situation.
- Review Current Practices - Take a close look at your application practices and training. Meet with your operators and keep them aware of the situation and ask how rock salt can be applied in the lowest amounts while still doing the job. This is a great time to reinforce training and temperature effectiveness of different ice management chemicals. SIMA members can review estimates for usage of salt by downloading the Bidding, Estimating and Production Forms from the Resource 24/7 Training Center here.
- Consider Using Liquids - This also takes resources to invest in equipment and training, however, liquids and particularly pre-treating existing rock salt piles with liquids appears to the one of the few options available in the market. Remember, “necessity is the mother of invention.” This may have some applicable purposes now.