Rick Schanz / Managing editor, content
On her way to class Tuesday morning, Jenn Clancy slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk. Later that day, she fell again.
“No one laughed at me. I think people know it happens. The icy slush makes the sidewalks slippery and disgusting, so sometimes you just lose your footing and you’re down” said Clancy, a first-year in dance and biology.
The second time she fell, Clancy admits she was in a rush. With back-to-back classes, she had 15 minutes to get from Sullivant Hall, near High Street and 15th Avenue, to Jennings Hall, at the intersection of Neil and 12th avenues.
As the snow accumulates, Ohio State’s Transportation and Parking Services clears parking lots and the Facilities Operations and Development staff removes snow from roadways, sidewalks, bike paths and other areas on campus.
FOD employs nearly 50 people to remove snow and perform other duties, such as mulching, leaf removal, masonry repair and heavy equipment operation, said Sally Blatt, an FOD administrative associate
On days when snowfall mounts up, road and grounds workers often work overtime.
Two or more inches of snow requires plowing on roads and sidewalks, said Wes Shinn, an FOD spokesman. But sometimes workers predict snow and take action to pretreat sidewalks.
“We want to prevent accidents, so we’re out there putting salt and brine down ahead of time,” Shinn said.
Brine is a chemical mixture of salt and water put on streets before a snowstorm. The liquid is effective for up to 48 hours.
Work crews also use rock salt to melt snow and ice. FOD officials said the university has used about 500 tons of salt this season.
Dr. Mary Kiacz, medical director at Student Health Services, said in an e-mail that medical officials often see a trend in student injuries during winter months.
“It is common for us to see patients with injuries due to slips and falls on the ice or snow, but we do not keep track of whether the fall has occurred on or off campus. Most of the injuries involve the ankle or wrist,” Kiacz said.
If students fall on ice or snow, the university is likely not liable.
“Generally Ohio courts have held that natural accumulations of snow and ice are obvious dangers and have not found business owners liable when business invitees, such as students, slip and fall on their premises,” said Mark Lemmon, a paralegal in the Office of Legal Affairs, in an e-mail.
Rob Erney, a personal injury attorney in Columbus, said liability depends on the natural, or unnatural slip-inducing conditions.
“Ohio courts have held that there’s no civil liability when people are injured due to natural accumulation of snow and ice. Where a case can be made is unnatural accumulation,” Erney said. “Say an owner’s broken sub pump leaks water at a business or public place, maybe a parking lot or apartment complex. If the water freezes and a person slips and falls walking over it, there might be a legal argument to be made.”
FOD officials said the highest priority area for snow removal on campus is the Medical Center. Blankenship Hall, the Veterinary Hospital, campus kitchens, loading docks and residence halls also get extra attention.
“We focus on main campus and work out from there,” Shinn said. “A lot of students go to the RPAC, we know that. And then if there is a basketball game or a campus event that is on our radar as well.”
Clancy said she thinks FOD needs to clear the sidewalks if the roads are not clear.
“The Oval was super slick (Tuesday) and a lot of students walk to class through that area,” she said.
Other students said their peers need to be responsible when walking around campus.
“I’ve never had much of a problem with snowy sidewalks,” said Grace Dutton, a third-year in medical dietetics. “People have to be responsible. I have snow boots. Students should know to dress for the conditions outside.”
Jess Coleman, a first-year in economics and English, saw a student slip and fall, dropping a laptop computer as she fell on slushy pavement on Tuesday.
“(The laptop) was in a case. I approached her to help, we turned it on, and it still worked fine,” Coleman said.
Brittani Cox, a fifth-year in human development and family science, said the university does a good job with snow removal.
“As a commuter student, I have to make it here no matter how bad the roads are and the city of Columbus doesn’t always do a good job,” Cox said. “Some of the roads and sidewalks are better on campus than off anyways.”
Some students living off campus receive snow removal services from the city of Columbus. The city employs 112 equipment operators who plow residential streets after at least four inches of snow have fallen.
The city said Columbus residents, including students that live off campus, have a role in snow removal during and after winter storms.
“Whether a home or business, shovel your sidewalk, driveway apron and any wheelchair ramps in front of your home or business,” the city’s Department of Public Service instructs on its website. “When the snow begins to melt, clear snow from in front of catch basins by shoveling the snow into storm sewers.”
Ohio law does not require landlords to remove snow, said Nicole Hall, director and supervising attorney for the Student Housing Legal Clinic.
“Provisions of city municipal code may determine who is responsible for removing snow from a sidewalk or in front of a unit,” Hall said.
Steven Gonzales, a third-year in microbiology and Spanish, said snowy walkways in the off-campus area are poorly addressed, making it easy for students to slip and fall.
“I definitely think they could do a better job shoveling on campus, but it’s worse off campus. I’ve fallen a few times. I’ve seen people fall,” Gonzales said. “This time of year there’s always ice. For the safety of everyone, it has to be removed.”