Improve sidewalk safety in winter to prevent injury, limit liability, city told

Toronto public health officials want the city to take several steps to improve sidewalk safety when winter coats city streets with snow and ice.

30K ER visits due to slips, falls in past decade, staff report says

Toronto public health officials are calling on the city to take steps to improve sidewalk safety, not only to reduce the number of injuries from slips and falls, but also to limit its liability costs arising from claims. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Toronto public health officials want the city to take several steps to improve sidewalk safety when winter coats city streets with snow and ice.

Measures taken by the city would not only reduce injuries from slips and falls, but also lower its liability costs that arise from legal claims, a staff report says.

Monica Campbell, director of healthy public policy at Toronto Public Health, said the report found that injuries from slips and falls on city streets in winter cost the city about $6.7 million per year due to liability insurance claims. The city's public works and infrastructure committee is considering the report on Monday.

"We did an analysis and looked at what was happening in the last decade, and what we observed, much to our surprise, is that there were 30,000 visits to the emergency room as a result of slips and falls on snow or ice," Campbell, co-author of the report, told Metro Morning on Monday. 

"Furthermore, the more serious kinds of falls and injuries resulted in about 2,800 hospital admissions, with an average stay of about six days. So it's quite a serious health issue when people fall on snow and ice."

The report, which looked at wintertime slips and falls from 2006 to 2015, calls on the city to increase awareness of the bylaw that requires owners and occupants to shovel sidewalks next to their properties within 12 hours after a snowfall.

It also urges the city to draw more attention to the free manual sidewalk snow clearing service offered by the city to seniors and people with disabilities who cannot shovel and who register with the city. 

And it recommends that the city improve sidewalk safety by changing what it calls the "snowfall threshold" for mechanical sidewalk clearing to two centimetres of snow in all areas where the service is available.

Campbell said in many areas of North York, Etobicoke and Scarborough, snow is mechanically cleared after eight centimetres of snowfall between December and March. She said in the old city of Toronto, York and East York, many main routes are mechanically cleared but sidewalks on local roads are not. 

Downtown sidewalks 'complicated' to clear

An estimated 1,100 kilometres of sidewalks, out of a total of 7,100 kilometres, are not mechanically cleared in Toronto

Downtown sidewalks, she said, are "more complicated" to clear because they are narrow, they have more encroachments and street parking limits the ability of equipment to pass freely. 

Campbell said the report found there is a connection between the amount of annual snowfall and rates of slips and falls, and the amount of annual snowfall and the number of legal claims filed against the city by people alleging it has not properly cleared the sidewalks under its responsibility.

She said officials in the city's insurance and risk management reported the $6.7 million figure. 

The report says that to improve enforcement, the city's transportation service wants to increase the number of bylaw officers who respond to concerns about uncleared sidewalks.

Residents need to do their part, Campbell said.

"'Be nice, clear your ice' - it's a really important message so that everybody understands you need a connected, cleared sidewalk going down the whole block so that people, especially seniors, feel confident getting out there and going about their daily business," she said.