How To Weather The Risks Of Winter

The long winter months can wreak havoc on your business. Beyond lost employee productivity due to inclement weather and seasonal illnesses, winter cold and storms pose a risk to company plants, warehouses, offices and other buildings. For business-critical functions such as manufacturing operations, severe winter damage – whether from high winds and heavy snow or prolonged cold weather freezing and bursting pipes – can cripple a business for days, weeks, or even longer. All good reasons to fold winter-related risks into your company’s broader risk-management strategy. 

Plan for Weather-related Incidents 

Conducting inspections and maintenance of company properties to ensure that roofs are in good condition and that gutters, drainpipes and drainage ditches are free of blockages should be part of your annual approach to preparing for the winter months.  Companies should also conduct similar inspections of buildings for damages following any weather-related incidents to uncover and repair – as soon as possible – any significant damage. 

Update Your Emergency and Business Continuity Plans

In addition to the basic activities described above, it is important to prepare an emergency plan to deal with important weather-related incidents.  It should include the names and contact information (including both business and personal cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses) of all of the members of a designated emergency response team (ERT).  The ERT should have a designated leader and backup, so that no time will be wasted in determining who is in charge of coordinating the response in the event of an emergency.  Conducting periodic drills on how to handle specific incidents should be part of the responsibilities of the leader and other team members. 

It is also critical to update your Business Continuity Plan (BCP) to include weather-related incidents.  Preventative measures, such as ensuring that critical documents and data are safely stored and that backup generators are in place (or are readily available) to take over powering critical operations, should be a key part of your BCP.  Like the ERT, the BCP should also contain a list of emergency contacts who have been briefed on their roles and are ready to step in to assist, if and when an emergency occurs. 

Hazard Control – Preventing Flooding

Fortunately there are a number of simple steps which, when taken in advance, will help reduce the risk of losses due to winter’s wrath.  Here are just a few examples. 

Water damage from flooding resulting from burst frozen pipes can be very costly.  To reduce the odds of this kind of loss, companies should when possible maintain an adequate level of heating – at least 39 ºF (about 4 ºC) – in facilities housing water pipes and tanks.  When this is not practical or possible, all water pipes and tanks should be insulated to reduce the odds of freezing.  And when you know in advance that a building will be unoccupied or otherwise not in use for an extended period of time, the water supply to the building should be turned off and existing water in tanks and pipes should be drained from the water system. 

Of course even our best efforts can sometimes come to naught.  That’s why it is important to keep inventory, machinery and other vulnerable items that are susceptible to water damage on upper floors whenever possible.  When this not practical, store as many of these items as possible on pallets or other forms of racking to reduce the possibility of damage.  

Hazard Control – Winter Storm Prep

Take weather warnings seriously and keep track of severe weather warnings.  Even if you are already conducting the annual inspections discussed earlier, when a severe weather warning occurs, double check that buildings are sound and in good condition, including doors, windows and skylights.  Pay special attention to building roofs, which are subject to collapse when snow accumulations grow too heavy, and plan for safe methods of snow removal.  If your facilities are located in areas where snow is common, it is vital that any accumulations are cleared from roofs on a regular basis before they reach unsafe load levels. For the exterior, be sure to inspect any large trees close to company buildings and remove any unsafe branches and trees.   

Winter will always take its toll.  But if you plan carefully, conduct regular maintenance and stay diligent, winter damage can be minimized until the warm thaw of spring comes once again.  

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