Treacherous sidewalks in Prince Albert a challenge for mail carriers

Jodi Schellenberg
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Although there is snow every winter, every year there are people choosing not to clear their sidewalks.

Recently, Canada Post had to suspend delivery of mail to this home due to a four-foot pile of snow blocking the sidewalk. The carriers could not safely deliver mail to the address.

For people who use the sidewalks on a regular basis, such as Canada Post mail carriers, sidewalks that have not been cleared pose a significant safety challenge.

On Thursday morning, the Daily Herald took a drive around Prince Albert with John Abbott, local area manager for Prince Albert’s Canada Post office, to see firsthand some of the challenges facing the Canada Post workers.

Some of the issues were paths that were not shovelled, stairs with ice or snow built up but no guardrails and others that were only shovelled up to the city sidewalks.

“Since this winter started, we have had approximately 10 incidents related to trips, slips and falls and icy, snowy and nasty weather conditions,” Abbott said.

Canada Post has safety guidelines in place for their employees -- they have to wear proper winter gear, including winter footwear with adequate traction and the company provides them with slip on traction devices -- but these guidelines don’t always prevent incidents.

“While (the devices) provide traction, in some conditions they are not adequate because the traction results in injuries where you slip, they catch and you get a twist or strain injury,” Abbott said. “It is just one of the tools they have in their arsenal to protect themselves.”

In addition, the workers can refuse unsafe work under health and safety, which Canada Post is behind 100 per cent.

If an employee feels unsafe, Abbott said they report the unsafe area on their route to their superiors, who will then check out the situation first hand.

“Throughout the year we are dealing with the maintenance issue and street maintenance issues,” Abbott said. “Sometimes stairs wear out, handrail breaks.

“With empowering the employees if something is unsafe or feel it is unsafe, employees in Canada have the right to refuse to do unsafe work,” he added.

Once the home is determined to be unsafe, mail will be temporarily suspended until the homeowner can fix the situation.

“When the mail service is suspended we provide the customer with the notification and advise them mail being held at depot and they can come collect it without delay until the safety situation is resolved,” Abbott said.

In the wintertime, there are a number of additional safety concerns due to the extreme weather conditions.

“When it comes to winter, we have issues because it snows a lot and the weather conditions change,” Abbott said. “We can be walking in fresh snow, which isn’t bad as long as you have traction.

“If it snows at night, we understand some people aren’t home in the morning or they are at work and the snow clearing may not happen until later in the day,” Abbott said.

The problems start when homeowners have had ample time to clear snow from the walkways and have not. According to city bylaw they have 48 hours to clear the sidewalks of snow.

“When you get into two or three days and it becomes worse and unsafe, it is apparent the homeowners are not clearing the snow and it presents a safety hazard for our carriers, we will suspend delivery,” Abbott said. “We have had 10 incidents this year.”

There are currently five employees recovering from slips, trips and falls, Abbott said.

“It can be a minor injury, which we take as serious as a major injury, but it can also be a life-altering injury,” Abbott said. “We had a carrier in this depot that was subjected to a slip, trip and fall weather related who broke his leg.”

The issue isn’t just in Prince Albert, but all over the province.

“We have had carriers in Saskatchewan injured,” Abbott said. “Three weeks ago a carrier slipped and fell and broke her pelvis, which is a life-altering injury and means her career as a letter carrier is over. She will never be able to walk and carry mail again because of a fall.

“Our intent is to have our carriers come to work, serve the communities and go home in better shape that they came in.”

He said many homeowners may think the snow covering walkways just affects them, but in fact it affects everyone in the community.

“We have members of the public -- mail carriers, newspaper people, people in the community and children going door-to-door with school projects trying to raise some money -- and it raises safety concerns to all,” Abbott said.

When a concern is raised, Abbott said in many cases they will inform the homeowner in person.

“We will go knock on the door and say we have a concern because it is an impediment to safety for those walking on the sidewalks,” Abbott said. “Many times the homeowners will say, ‘I clear my stairs, I clear my walkway to the city sidewalk -- isn’t it the city’s responsibility to clear the sidewalk?’

“We appreciate that they do that but the area of concern we have -- I can’t let a letter carrier risk life and limb carrying and walking in a situation that is precarious,” he added. “I definitely wouldn’t condone a letter carrier climbing over a four foot snow bank. That is definitely unsafe.”

The sidewalks in front of people’s homes is not the responsibility of the city, but the homeowner, according to the city bylaw, but in some cases it may seem unfair when the homeowner has mobility issues.

One of the homes Canada Post had to suspend delivery to was due to a snow pile in front of her house about four feet high which was made after the grader cleared her street. Having mobility issues, the person was unable to dig through the snow pile and clear a path to her walkway.

“One of the questions I asked when I went out there the other day is what if that person had to call the ambulance, what if the fire department had to come?” Abbott said. “I think the person was basically isolated in that house. They may have a back door that leads out to a lane way but our concern is the mail box is (on the front) and the letter carrier has to walk on the street and don’t have access to get to the building.”

There are a great deal of houses that still have snow in front of them, although there has not been a significant snowfall in the last 48 hours, Abbott said.

“I think we have had 42 addresses since beginning of January that we have temporarily suspended delivery sue to snow clearing issues,” Abbott said.

When Canada Post lets the people know there is an issue, normally they are willing to fix it.

“The majority of those address the issues right away and make it safe for the carriers and we resume delivery,” Abbott said.  

Although they have had to suspend delivery to some addresses, Abbott said it is not something the carriers take lightly.

“Carriers do have a great interest in delivering mail to their customers,” he said. “Many of our letter carriers are on a first-name basis with many of the customers on their routes. We feel it is our job and obligation to get the mail delivered.”

Abbott wants people to be made aware of the concerns of the community members who have to walk on sidewalks that are not cleared of snow.

“From a public service perspective, we are looking for people to be aware of the concerns and consequences of not clearing the snow, not making it safe for people in the community,” Abbot said. “People may take it for granted and think it is not a big deal. It is a big deal because I think the women who fell three weeks ago and broke her pelvis -- I think snow clearing was a big deal for her.”

He doesn’t want the city to start fining people, but homeowners to be made aware of the challenges and start clearing the sidewalks in front of their homes.

“If every person made a reasonable attempt to clear the snow and ice in front of their homes, it would minimize the chance of an accident for us.” 

Organizations: Canada Post, Prince Albert, Daily Herald

Geographic location: Canada, Saskatchewan

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