Buildings, Bundle Up!
Many facilities are standing empty or are only partially in use due to the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean they are exempt from the effects of winter weather. Proper care and maintenance strategies can drastically reduce the wear and tear inflicted on property by winter conditions and can go a long way towards preventing costly property damage claims.
Each organization should have an established plan for winter weatherization tailored to the needs of their facilities. Plans should include a system of thorough and efficient checks that are completed well in advance of winter weather. Location-specific checklists that are completed before a certain deadline are a great way to get started. Consider using the following list to develop your essential winter weather preparation plan or to augment a plan that is already in place.
This is often the first item that comes to mind regarding winter weather preparation, as it is the first to be affected by outdoor conditions and often bears the brunt of most seasonal wear and tear.
Defects in the building exterior, or “envelope,” can allow heat to escape in colder months, resulting in costly heating bills, and possibly create places where leaks and other damage may occur.
- Thoroughly inspect the seals of all windows, doorways, vents, and other apertures; repair before cold weather sets in.
Water damage and collapse are serious threats to roofs. Before winter hits:
- Determine the snow load capacity of each roof;
- Develop a procedure to monitor and address snow load levels during periods of heavy snowfall;
- Before the first snow, inspect the roof for any damage or debris, especially around vents and other apertures;
- Check seals near roof edges to prevent any drafts or leaks; and
- Remove any overhanging tree limbs that may cause damage, if they fall, due to the added weight of snow and ice or during storms and high winds.
Gutters may be as mundane as it gets, but they are crucial systems for protecting roofs and facilities from water damage. Properly functioning gutters divert seasonal precipitation down established channels in ways that reduce the likelihood of erosion, seepage, and other types of damage.
- Thoroughly clean and test gutters to ensure they will function as expected during periods of heavy precipitation or thaw;
- During the gutter test, observe the water spouts to ensure no erosion, seepage, or other damage is occurring to building foundations or surrounding landscaping; and
- Consider installing heat trace tape in eves, gutters, and downspouts, in order to prevent the formation of ice dams during periods of thaw and re-freeze.
Entrances and Exits
These are usually the biggest culprits for letting outdoor conditions indoors, frequently letting in gusts of cold air into facilities, and primary locations for tracked in snow and ice on floors.
- Ensure you have the proper floor mats available for each entrance and exit, and that they are clean and in good repair;
- Thoroughly clean permanently installed carpets around entrances and exits of dirt and other dry soil before wet conditions set in;
- Have water removal tools on hand to dry floors around entrances and exits as needed; and
- Consider installing some kind of baffle system for high-traffic entrances and exits in order to reduce unnecessary facility heat loss.
Though interiors are less obviously impacted by winter weather than exteriors, they can still sustain damage due to winter conditions if not properly maintained. Inspect and conduct maintenance repairs on all of the following systems before winter sets in:
- Fire alarm
- Fire suppression
- Water and piping
- Gas lines
The likelihood of weather-related power incidents increases during winter months. Take the following steps to prepare:
- Review procedures to protect water pipes, refrigeration systems, critical data, inventory, and other organizational assets that might be affected by a loss of power;
- Identify which systems must have power during a prolonged power outage and acquire backup generators to keep them running; and
- Acquire a basic inventory of parts and tools necessary to effect basic repairs on critical systems if professionals can’t reach you due to conditions.
Slips, trips, and falls are one of the most common and costly liability claims and are at a higher likelihood of occurring in winter. Consider the following to ensure your sidewalks, curbs, parking lots, and other walking surfaces do not become the location of an incident.
Snow and Ice Removal
It is important to inspect all walkways for cracks, holes, crumbling edges, and other defects so that they can be repaired before they become covered with snow and ice. If left unaddressed, these elements can become even more hazardous because conditions will be slick and pedestrians will not be able to see them. It is also recommended to have procedures in place to address the following tasks once snow and ice set in:
- Pre-season equipment inspection and replacement if necessary (shovels, snow blowers, etc.);
- Pre-determined snow removal zones;
- Weather monitoring;
- Regular removal and mitigation schedules (shoveling, applying grit and deicer, etc.);
- Daily safety inspections to identify and mitigate any hazardous walking conditions as they develop.
Each year hundreds of preventable deaths and injuries result from winter conditions. Frostbite, hypothermia, and heart attacks (frequently due to over-exertion from shoveling snow) are not uncommon, in addition to the myriad injuries that can result from a slip, trip, or fall incident. Implement any measures needed to protect employees from these risks this winter, especially if staff must perform work outdoors.
- Provide outdoor shelters; such as wind shields and outdoor radiators;
- Perform work in shifts to limit outdoor exposure;
- Schedule shifts for the warmest parts of the day;
- Ensure employees have proper attire and footwear;
- Consider providing employees with traction cleats; that slip over regular footwear, such as Yaktrax;
- Provide access to warm liquids; and
- Remind employees to stay well-hydrated and to not overexert themselves.
As a final note, develop protocols to ensure buildings are receiving adequate heat, especially those standing vacant or temporarily vacant over a period of several days, and that there are procedures in place for proper response to winter storms and periods of extreme cold. It’s not just people that need to bundle up in winter months! If you have any questions regarding this material, please contact your broker or risk manager. Information for this article was obtained from the following sources: