The Freeze-Melt-Refreeze Season is here. Are you ready?

As we inch closer to spring, we are actually more at risk for cycles of weather that allow for a Freeze-Melt-Refreeze pattern because temperatures become slightly warmer, but still go below freezing at night.


Why is it called black ice?


When the temperature rises above freezing during the day (or when the sun comes out), any snow on the ground melts to liquid and flows onto roadways and walkways, even if they’ve already been cleared. Likewise, if it’s warm enough that precipitation is in the form of rain, then the ground is already wet. As night falls and the temperature drops below freezing, any wet surfaces will refreeze and become black ice.


There’s nothing special about black ice, except that it’s transparent. Therefore, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to see. It’s called “black” ice because it blends in with the black pavement on roads, parking lots and walkways, but really it’s a thin, dangerous coating of ice.


When ice forms on a puddle or other area where there’s water that’s even a few inches deep, it tends to be white or gray, and so it is more visible. If you have areas outside your business where you know that there are dips in the pavement or areas where water tends to pool, you can expect that icy patches will form. If you’re prepared for those spots, you can mark them with cones so that employees are aware of where they are. Coating the area immediate with plenty of sand and salt is your best defense against a black ice accident. The danger of black ice is that it can be anywhere that’s a flat surface and it’s virtually impossible to see.


Preventing black ice hazards at your business


Black ice is inevitable in this part of the country, but there are things you can do to mitigate the risk of one of your employees experiencing a slip-and-fall accident from black ice.


1. Plow snow for the least amount of downward flow. If you plow your own parking and walking areas, or if you hire a contractor, make sure that snow is collected at the bottom of a downgrade. In other words, if you pile snow at the top of a slope, it will flow downwards as it melts. Push the snow to the lowest possible point so that you’re minimizing the downward flow of melting.


2. Check the downspouts on the building. If you have gutters or downspouts, they might be draining into a walkway on the property. If that’s the case, direct them toward a spot where no one will be walking or driving.


3. Use best practices for salting and ice removal. If a Freeze-Melt-Refreeze situation is in the forecast you can stay ahead of it. Be prepared to salt proactively, and frequently throughout the duration of this weather season.


4. Use ample signage to warn people about the condition of the pavement. Chances are that people who are visiting your business might already know that conditions are icy, but some surfaces freeze faster than others. Even once you’ve identified them and salted, you still want to add some signs out of an abundance of caution. Orange cones, “Caution: Icy Pavement” and other relevant signs are important in spots where people will be accessing the property. You can also put them by the doorways facing out so that people are reminded of the hazard as they leave.


Preparing your fleet drivers for black ice


If you employ drivers, it’s important that they understand how to spot black ice and what are some ways to be prepared to deal with it from behind the wheel. First, though, if you can keep your fleet off the road in dangerous conditions, that’s the best approach – though that’s not always realistic.


1. Know what surfaces are most likely to be icy. Bridges and beneath overpasses tend to freeze faster than open road surfaces.


2. Be observant of other vehicles’ behavior. When you see other cars swerving for apparently no reason, that might be the first clue that there’s ice on the roads.


3. Know what black ice “looks like”. We’ve already said that black ice is nearly impossible to see, but if you spot areas where the pavement looks extra glossy, it’s likely because of the thin coating of ice.


4. Be prepared for how to handle the vehicle in icy conditions. How you handle a vehicle on ice depends on various factors relating to the size and features of the vehicle. Be sure that part of the training you offer to your employees includes specifics about how to manage the vehicles they will be driving.


In general, the best practice for minimizing your risk of someone experiencing injury because of a Freeze-Melt-Refreeze cycle is to be aware of when it’s happening (or likely to happen). Usually, your best source of information is your local weather forecast. You can configure alerts on your phone for when weather conditions are ripe for black ice or refreezing. Being aware of when black ice is likely to form and taking the necessary steps to melt it as fast as possible on your property is the most proactive way to keep your employees safe.