When it comes to managing a company’s business risks, there’s never a slow season. As soon as summer’s skeleton crew operations come to a close, it’s on to autumn’s end-of-year prep before winter weather concerns make their entrance — and the cycle carries on. And although we can’t stop such risks from entering the scene altogether, it is possible to prepare for their approach.
BCH’s risk management professionals want to help keep your business operating safely and successfully throughout the winter season. Read on for insights into mitigating business risks, protecting your people and property, and handling unexpected issues that arise when winter storms set in. It’s all about being prepared when it matters.
Winter Weather Safety Tips to Limit Liability Risks
When frigid conditions combine with snow, ice and other seasonal moisture, the likelihood of injuries increases exponentially. Businesses that fail to adequately prepare can face costly insurance payouts, hefty repair costs, damaged reputations and similar fallout. The following winter weather safety tips, used in collaboration with your company’s emergency or disaster plan, can help you create a safer environment for all who frequent your property.
- Take Steps to Prevent Slips and Falls: Keep sidewalks, entryways and other high-traffic areas free of slippery leaves, ice, snow and moisture. Place slip-resistant mats at entrances to reduce the amount of moisture tracked in, and provide a place for people to store wet umbrellas. Use sand, salt or ice melt to improve traction where appropriate.
- Consider Risks Associated with Falling Objects: Heavy ice and snow loads can cause weak branches or corroded building accessories to come loose and fall, creating the potential for injury or property damage. Clear icicles and snow accumulation from areas that experience heavy foot traffic and, if possible, tend to landscaping before winter storms set in. Remain vigilant after a snow or ice storm, and direct people away from areas that could place them at risk.
- Keep Team Members Safe on the Road: If your work requires team members to travel, take added precautions for the road. Winterize company vehicles, ensure they’re well maintained and stock them with safety equipment, just in case. Establish and communicate safe driving policies for your company and, whenever possible, offer flexible hours to accommodate safer commutes. In addition, encourage team members to bundle up with appropriate winter wear. You never know when a flat tire or other automotive issue might require them to pause at the roadside for an extended period.
- Place Warnings Where People Will See Them: Wet floor signs, outage notices and other safety communications help ease confusion and ensure people know to proceed with caution when conditions take a turn. Display notices in high-traffic areas — and in highly visible ways — so they don’t get missed.
BCH Tip: Our Winter Weather Liabilities Sheet offers additional insights to help you assess your surroundings and address issues which could present hazards. Click to download your copy!
Consider the Less Obvious Impacts a Weather Closure Might Have on Operations
Snow, ice and traffic concerns are common when temperatures drop, but they aren’t the only issues that plague businesses. Thinking through the more subtle troubles that come into play can ease stress and help maintain near-normal operations during and after a winter weather event.
- How Will You Handle Employee Pay? Do you pay your employees when winter weather gives them an unexpected day off? From a legal standpoint, most companies are only required to pay hourly employees for time they actually worked. However, some choose to pay them anyway. Then there are salaried employees who fall elsewhere within the law, often earning a full day’s pay if they worked even a small amount. Determine what’s required of your company — and which, if any, special concessions you plan to make — and incorporate them into official company practices. Communicate policies to team members.
- How Will Your Closure Impact Clients? If you operate a public-facing business such as a boutique storefront or restaurant, although a one-day closure will impact your profits, the long-term client effects are likely minimal. It’s a different story, however, if you provide goods or services other companies rely on to carry out their own work. Think through potential repercussions, steps you can take to minimize disruptions for clients and the best way to communicate with those affected.
- What Happens if Your Suppliers Experience Outages? Widespread winter storms can wreak havoc on businesses at every stage of your supply chain. And while there’s little you can do about raw material and equipment delays, open communication can make a difference. Keep a list of important business contacts, and don’t hesitate to reach out with questions regarding where a particular order stands, estimated delivery times and other details vital to your operational success.
BCH Tip: Our Office Insights One Sheet provides a closer look at some of the more nuanced winter weather issues that can impact operations. Download your copy to stay prepared.
Factor Business Continuity Considerations into Seasonal Planning
Winter weather can bring unexpected disruptions to daily business in the form of power outages, frozen pipes and transportation issues. Developing a comprehensive business continuity plan helps ensure your operations can overcome such challenges and remain able to continue providing your clients the products and services upon which they rely. Here are some factors to keep in mind.
- Back Up Important Data: Consider which files could put your business in jeopardy if you were no longer able to access them. Store information such as payroll data and files crucial for client projects on a secure server or external drive that’s unlikely to be impacted by a system failure.
- Establish Backup Power Sources: Invest in generators to keep essential systems functioning in the event of a power outage. Scale this to suit your business and its needs. For most office settings, battery-powered surge protectors are probably enough to protect work during power fluctuations. For healthcare settings and other operations that involve highly specialized equipment and systems, larger-scale backup is key.
- Determine a Plan for Remote Work: Remote work can be a quality alternative if roadways become unsafe or outages affect your workplace. Establish and communicate an official company policy laying out who can work remotely, how and when they should communicate with the company and any expectations associated with the work. Provide employees with the tools and technology needed to work off-site with minimal disruption to operations.
Mother Nature might be unpredictable, but approaching the winter season with a plan can make a real difference. If you have questions about any of the above, or if you want to take a closer look at your company’s risk management plan and business insurance coverage, feel free to contact your BCH team. Our risk advisors would love to hear from you!