As the weather begins to turn cooler throughout the United States and Canada, organizations should prepare and plan for winter weather. Freezing temperatures, ice, and snow bring added risks to businesses. Winter weather hazards can be responsible for property damage, injuries to employees and damage to fleet operations. With these factors in mind, loss prevention is crucial to minimizing claims and managing your company’s total cost of risk. HUB understands these exposures and has developed guidelines for winter weather loss prevention.
One of the most significant loss leaders in business is the risk of Slips, Trips and Falls (STFs). Winter hazards greatly increase the likelihood of these types of claims. A significant challenge with premises liability is that your organization cannot control the actions or choices of the general public (such as using proper winter footwear). It is critical to do everything in your control to reduce the risk of STF injuries. In addition to standard day-to-day prevention measures, proactive snow/ ice management is critical. Your organization may choose to perform these activities in-house, utilize a subcontractor, or a combination of both. Depending on your choice, the necessary controls will vary.
Snow accumulation and cold temperatures bring the potential of roof collapse and freezing pipes. Roof collapse occurs when the snow and ice loading is greater than what the building was structurally designed to handle. Older buildings may be more susceptible to roof collapse than newer buildings due to stress over time. Newer building codes also typically include larger safety factors for roof loading. Building construction also affects snow load capacity. For example, poured concrete buildings usually have much higher live and dead load design capacities compared to wood or steel frame buildings. An emerging concern arises from the popularity of solar panels. These panels have substantial weight and reduce the live load capacity of the roof. Freezing water pipes are a concern in all buildings, especially in vacant buildings or multi-tenant buildings with vacant spaces. Severe winter storms may damage equipment, disrupt utilities and break windows. If sub-freezing temperatures remain for extended periods of time, these conditions may lead to domestic and/or fire sprinkler pipe breakage.
Employee Health and Safety
Slips, Trips and Falls prevention is also critical from an employee health and safety perspective. It’s important to address liability concerns as well as ensure worker safety through the use of proper footwear, warm clothing, and personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary for their job tasks. In addition to same level STF claims, winter weather may also increase the likelihood of falls from heights. In areas with significant snow accumulation, flat roofs periodically need to be cleaned off so that snow loading does not become an issue. While many flat commercial roofs do have parapets, there may be some that do not or are too small to provide an adequate physical barrier. In some cases, workers may have to use ladders to clear the snow accumulation. In any scenario, fall protection should be used by exposed workers. Skylights pose another fall from heights hazard. In the United States, OSHA has investigated numerous fatalities that were caused by a worker stepping on and falling through a snow covered skylight. If skylights are present, they should be guarded by a physical barrier such as a railing. If your employees perform snow and ice removal, other hazards such as physical stress, repetitive motion injuries, exposure to cold weather, and equipment/mechanical hazards such as pinch points, may be present. Snow removal efforts often require the use of plow trucks, front loaders, snow blowers and other mechanical equipment. It is important to ensure that employees are properly trained on safe operation of all equipment used in snow removal activities. The requirements will vary based on the scope of your snow removal operations.
Hazardous road conditions caused by winter weather often create traffic delays, closed roadways and vehicular accidents. According to data published by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, poor weather-related driving conditions are associated with significant increases in crashes, injuries and fatalities. Wet and slippery road conditions increase stopping distances and reduce traction and visibility. Not only do accidents impact your auto insurance rates, they can affect your employees’ health and your workers compensation costs. It is beneficial to inspect and service all vehicles prior to winter’s arrival. Furthermore, HUB recommends conducting a winter weather safety meeting with drivers to address driving techniques and emergency preparedness.
Access the Winter Weather Safety Checklist and modify as appropriate for your organization.
For additional guidance on how to prevent loss and manage risk for your business, contact HUB Risk Services.