Liability concerns spur call for volunteers at outdoor rinks
By Sue Tiffin
Published Dec. 12, 2017
Managing outdoor ice rinks and toboggan hills in Highlands East is going to require daily maintenance to ensure the public spaces are risk-free, according to the municipality’s insurance provider, and might not be able to be open as a result.
Jim Alden, property supervisor, researched risk management recommendations for outdoor skating rinks in Cardiff and Gooderham and a toboggan hill in Cardiff, and filed a report with council on Dec. 6, where he encouraged discussion about how the municipality would meet the guidelines.
“Outdoor rinks and toboggan hills are popular fixtures in most municipalities during the winter months,” reads the report. “These activities have been favourite winter pastimes for both young and old to enjoy. However, they can lead to significant liability to municipalities if these outdoor areas are not properly maintained.”
Alden’s report said smaller municipalities like Highlands East don’t have the staffing nor the volunteer base to properly maintain the outdoor spaces to the level of safety required by the municipality’s insurance provider, especially depending on weather that can fluctuate quickly between routine staff inspections.
“Effective maintenance steps to ensure these areas are properly maintained as required involves a significant level of knowledge and commitment to comply with the risk management criteria we must adhere to,” said Alden in the report. “Yes, there are a number of precautions we can take to reduce risk of accidents and injuries, however, daily maintenance checks on these outdoor spaces takes manpower we do not have without significant volunteer commitment.”
According to BFL Canada, the municipality’s insurance provider, inspections would need to take place should a significant rise in the temperature occur, and ice should be inspected for thickness daily when the temperature is above minus 5 degrees Celsius.
Daily outdoor rink maintenance requirements include snow removal, possibly multiple times a day, flooding the ice at the end of the day, checking boards for stability and proper alignment, and checking lighting for night skating. Signage stating hours of operation, rules of conduct, location of nearest telephone and that alcohol is prohibited, helmets are recommended and children should be supervised should be posted at both rinks.
“It’s just common sense stuff that we have to have,” said Alden. “But in order to proceed with all of us this, we have to reach out to the community and ask for volunteers, because without volunteers I don’t can’t see how this is going to work.”
Alden said his team could take on the list of responsibilities each week, but that daily maintenance would be difficult during a season when they’re also taking care of unpredictable snow removal needs elsewhere.
In the report, Alden recommended adding additional public skating dates at the arena and encouraging residents to rent the arena for private bookings.
“On the other side of the liability, one of the issues we’re faced with is the declining usage of our arena,” said Shannon Hunter, CAO. “It’s a facility for Highlands East, and maybe we should be focusing more on getting people to utilize the facility that we have and encourage that.”
Ice use at the Keith Tallman Memorial Arena has decreased since 2013, according to a separate report submitted by Alden at the same council meeting.
Many of the recommendations elicited bemused reactions from councillors who recalled their own significantly more reckless childhoods.
“I know when we were kids, we’d just shovel it off and we’d go,” said Alden. Later he said, “I remember when we used to toboggan and we’d come down through trees.”
AMO has recommendations to manage the risk of tobogganing as well, which include designating specific hills that are conducive for tobogganing, ensuring signage reminds people of no alcohol, that the hill is unsupervised, that people should walk up the sides of the hill rather than down the middle and that there is to be no tobogganing after dark. Man-made jumps are not permitted and must be removed.
“The insurance industry is taking all the fun out of childhood,” said Suzanne Partridge, deputy-mayor, to much agreement.
“I may be showing my age,” said Councillor Cam Mackenzie, “but I can see ice thickness on a pond being an issue, why we’d have to measure ice surface on an outdoor rink that’s paved, I have a hard time buying into.”
Alden said the depth of the ice on the outdoor rink must be a minimum of two inches at all times.
“It is the municipality’s duty, to keep the properties in safe conditions to accommodate for their intended purposes,” reads Alden’s report. “Ultimately, by not maintaining these areas it places the responsibility back onto the community members to use private property for these activities rather than municipal lands.”
Moving forward, Alden will put together a minimum requirement list for volunteers and will reach out to the community to see if volunteers are willing to assist.