Common Winter Hazards for Businesses
Winter weather is unpredictable, but business can’t be. Even though February is upon us and it may seem like the dead of winter should be over, in reality, we’re only just now moving into peak winter storm season. With each winter storm and cold wave different than the last, it’s important to stay aware of the common winter hazards that businesses and commercial properties face every time a cold burst of winter weather strikes.
Staying aware of these risks throughout the season and understanding how to avoid them will help keep your property and employees safe, and keep your business running without major interruption, no matter what Mother Nature unleashes this winter.
Here are five of the most common hazards winter weather brings for businesses, along with the ways to prevent them from interrupting yours!
Not surprisingly, slip and fall accidents in or around the workplace are one of the most common risks businesses face anytime snow and ice start to accumulate. Aside from the obvious potential for causing injury, slips and falls can also lead to decreased productivity and expose your business to liability claims for serious injuries.
In 2014, there were 42,480 work injuries caused by ice, sleet, or snow that required at least one day off of work to recover. (SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Keep your employees and clients safe by keeping your parking lots and walkways cleared of snow and ice. Make sure you can rely on your snow removal company to be timely in responding and thorough in completing the job.
If you’re a small business without a large outdoor area or the budget to hire out snow removal, remember to review and follow these safe shoveling practices:
- Warm up heart & muscles first.
- Dress in layers.
- Use an ergonomic shovel.
- Push instead of lift as much as possible.
- Stay hydrated.
- Take regular breaks.
Don’t forget the salt to prevent refreezing! Rock salt is especially helpful because it can also provide additional traction for vehicles and people.
Extreme cold, strong winds, and ice accumulating on tree branches and power lines are all common causes of winter weather-related power outages. Without a backup power source for your business, a winter power outage will inevitably disrupt productivity and day-to-day operations.
Generators are a key component of business continuity for companies of all sizes. They not only keep business up and running during power outages, but also keep key building systems running so your business doesn’t deal with water damage as a result of pipes freezing. When it comes to incorporating a generator into your business continuity plan, make sure to choose the right type for your business (portable vs. permanent), complete regular maintenance, and operate it safely and according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Does your business need a portable or permanent generator?
- Portable generator = Small to midsize businesses without sensitive equipment and few large appliances and machines.
- Permanent generator = Medium to large businesses with many appliances and systems that must stay running without risk of interruption.
When pipes freeze in the winter, they often burst as a result of the built-up pressure frozen water exerts on them, which can cause a lot of damage to a business in very little time. This is a risk not only because it’s an expensive property damage loss, but the water damage restoration work is also a several-days-long process. Depending on severity of flooding and the impacted area, this property damage interruption is an additional setback to productivity and operations, adding to the total cost of the loss.
The best way to prevent water damage to your business from burst pipes is to ensure the space that piping runs through stays well above freezing. Since pipes are often in areas of buildings that are less insulated than work spaces, keeping the temperature above freezing and out of cold winter drafts can sometimes require a few extra steps, depending on your building’s age and construction.
To prevent damage from frozen pipes…
- Seal openings & insulate pipes - Prevent cold outside air from entering. Caulk or insulate any cracks or penetrations. Insulate pipes that run through unheated areas of the building.
- Maintain temperature & power in the building - Even when the building may be empty during the holidays or inclement weather, keep the thermostat set to at least 55 degrees. Have generators prepared to keep heat running if you lose power in a winter storm.
- Monitor facility systems & detect problems early - Consider installing early detection systems and/or heat tracing for pipes that must
Water and freezing damage accounted for 15% of all property and liability claims filed by small businesses from 2010-2014, making it the second most common claim filed during that period. Average cost per claim: $17,000 (SOURCE: The Hartford)
Roof Damage & Collapse
Roof collapse is another seasonal hazard businesses and commercial properties face far more commonly in the winter than other times of year. The additional weight of snow and ice packed onto a roof adds up quickly. Once the accumulated snow and ice load reaches or surpasses the “danger zone,” it runs the risk of compromising the roof’s structural integrity, potentially leading to collapse.
What is the Roof Load “Danger Zone”? 20-25 pounds per square foot (PSF) of roof space.
How much does it take to equal a 20lbs PSF load? 4 inches ice = 20 inches packed snow = 4 feet fresh snow.
To better understand the roof load danger zone, check out this graph from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.
The roof load is important to monitor throughout the entire winter season, especially at the peak of winter storm season (around the beginning of February), when multiple storms can hit close together and pile on the snow and ice. This is especially important if your business has a flat or low-pitched roof – a standard design for industrial buildings – because they face the greatest likelihood of collapsing under the weight of snow and ice.
The fundamentals for preventing commercial roof collapse come down to awareness and maintenance:
- Know your building’s roof stability and load capacity.
- Understand the varying weights of fresh snow (lightest), packed snow, and ice (heaviest).
- Pay attention to the amount and type of snow accumulated on your business’s roof.
- Consider using a professional snow removal contractor if your roof load is at or near the danger zone
- Consult a roofing professional if you notice any shifts or sagging in the roof line
- Schedule regular roof inspections
When ice dams form around the edge of a building’s roof, they add to the total roof load, increasing the risk of damage or collapse. Ice dams also prevent water from draining properly, forcing it to seep and settle under the roof line and down into the interior of the building. When this happens, it leads to water damaged ceilings, walls, and flooring.
How do ice dams form?
- Snow begins to melt on parts of the roof where heat transfers out of the building.
- Melted snow starts running off the roof.
- Water hits sections that are not exposed to warmer air.
- Water refreezes around the eaves.
(SOURCE: State Farm)
To limit your business’s likelihood of dealing with ice dams, note the type of roof your building has. Ice dams can form on flat or sloped roofs, but buildings with steep sloped roofs are more at risk of developing them. Regardless of your roof structure, you can also take a few additional steps to prevent ice dams:
- Insulate lights, ductwork, and other openings that give off heat into the attic.
- Clear debris from drains, gutters, and downspouts.
- Install approved, self-regulating heat cables.
- Best bet: Remove snow before it has the chance to begin melting.