Winter risks – how to avoid them

Loss control expert shares key points to remind clients of

Winter risks – how to avoid them

Insurance News

By Gia Snape

Winter isn’t quite over yet, which means businesses across North America need to be prepared for a host of substantial risks brought by sub-zero temperatures, ice, and snow.

Some 40 million people are under a severe weather alert in the south and central US amid an ice storm in Texas. At the same time, frigid Artic air is forecast to spread to Ontario, Quebec and across Artic Canada early this month.

Bob Tull (pictured), AVP and lead loss control consultant at QBE North America, said businesses often wait till the last minute to figure out how to deal with potential losses during an event.

“If you handle the event well, it may go away without any consequences, but if you're not prepared and you don't have a response plan, then it can become more than a crisis,” he said.

What are the most significant risks for businesses in winter?

Deep freeze events, such as the one that hit Texas in February 2021 amid winter storm Uri, have caused tremendous losses. The disaster was the third costliest for the US that year, with $30 billion in losses, half of which were insured, according to Munich Re.

Meanwhile, the late-winter storm in Eastern Canada last year was among the most expensive natural catastrophes to hit the country, with about CA$140 million ($105 million) in insured losses, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Extreme weather aside, businesses face a host of perils during the colder months. Frozen pipes are one of the most common property losses in winter. Water damage losses spike during this season, as well as roof collapse from heavy snow loads.

From a workers’ comp and liability outlook, ice is a top driver of slips and falls for guests, employees, and contractors. High employee turnover is also a major exposure for commercial businesses, as new or inexperienced workers may not be used to operating machinery or equipment in winter.

For Tull, anticipating what often goes wrong can help business leaders prepare and mitigate losses. An experienced safety professional and first responder, he works with a variety of businesses, ranging from industrial manufacturers and warehouses, to hotels, condominiums, restaurants, and healthcare facilities.

“From a football perspective, risk services are the offense. We're preventing losses ad pre-plan for bad days,” Tull said.

What should businesses do to prevent risks during winter?

Tull shared some of his biggest tips for business owners to add to their winter risk management plans:

  1. Check facilities’ and vehicles’ temperature

Routinely inspecting properties and fleets should be a winter staple for businesses. Facilities should maintain temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, especially when they are idle for any reason. Likewise, enclosures around dry-pipe sprinkler valve should also stay above 40 degrees.

Operating any motor vehicles becomes additionally challenging in wintry conditions. Tull stressed that operators should maintain and inspect vehicles for anticipated weather, including tire tread and pressure, antifreeze, cold temperature washer solvents, and batteries.

Training employees on winter driving safety and planning trips to avoid overpasses, bridges or elevated roads will also go a long way in preventing losses.

  1. Have an ice and snow removal plan

Having entryways and exits well-lit and clear of snow and ice is key to preventing accidents on site, according to Tull.

“When you're an office, an apartment building, or hospitality business, you have a lot of transient people coming into your site that may not be familiar with the building. You want to make sure you’ve got snow plowing and to avoid piling snow in walking areas where it’s going to melt and refreeze to prevent slips and falls,” Tull said.

Businesses should also keep ice or snow piles away from hydrants and other access points for emergency or fire services.

  1. Install low temperature alarms

Low temperature alarms should be installed in critical areas such as sprinkler control valve rooms where temperatures are dependent on supplemental heating systems, Tull advised.

“If you have an area such as a warehouse that isn't normally heated, a low temperature alarm can be very helpful so if the temperature drops below 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) then somebody has to respond,” he said.

  1. Provide adequate gear and first-aid training to employees

Trained and well-prepared employees are critical to a winter risk management strategy. If workers are subject to cold temperatures, they should be properly geared up with water-proof clothing and protective equipment. Winter footwear also helps lessen slips and falls.

First-aid training will come in handy for preventing cold-weather emergencies, such as frostbite and hypothermia.

“First-aid training doesn't have to be that extensive for everyone,” Tull said.

“But part of the training should also be whether workers are checking up on each other.”

What winter-related risks do you think businesses should watch out for? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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