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Winter is Here. And So Are The Risks. Is Your Business Protected?

The new calendar says January. That means winter has settled in, and while the season normally batters northern tier states with frigid temperatures and snow, southern states are not always immune from winter’s wrath. In other words, winter weather can cause headaches for business owners and managers no matter where they’re located as they try to keep their facilities, customers and employees as safe as possible.

Cold temperatures and snow are of particular concern during winter months, each capable of causing damage to property and injury to people. And, a by-product of cold and snow is the real scourge of the winter season…ice.

Cold Temperatures

Winter temperatures can reach low enough to wreak havoc on a building’s fire sprinkler system, leaving the facility susceptible to fire and the damage it can cause. As a business owner or manager, it’s critical that you be alert to climate changes that could cause freezing and be ready to take the necessary steps to prevent a possible disaster for your organization.

The Physics – and Cost – of Frozen Pipes

In any type of fire sprinkler system, you’re dealing with water. When water freezes, it expands within the pipe by 10 percent, which can cause hairline fractures in the pipe. These cracks will go undetected until the next warm up when the ice melts and water begins exiting the pipe, potentially causing major damage to the property. A broken, one-inch pipe can lose up to 60 gallons of water per minute.

The average cost of a burst pipe is at least $30,000 per episode. And, that doesn’t take into account what would happen should a fire break out while the sprinkler system is down. When a fire sprinkler system freezes, the building’s water supply drops. If a fire should occur and a portion of the pipe is blocked by ice, water flow would be hindered, and the nearest sprinkler head may not activate.

 

Prevention Tips

The best defense against a frozen sprinkler system is a good offense—that is, ongoing maintenance, testing, and inspection of the system.

  • All structures on your company’s property that are protected by fire sprinklers should be physically inspected BEFORE cold weather hits. There should be no areas with insufficient heat, and precautions should be in place to make sure the sprinkler system is not exposed to freezing temperatures.
  • Set all thermostats to 55 degrees or higher at all times.
  • Do not let ice and snow to accumulate on roofs, windows, and around foundations of your building’s structures.
  • Your employees should watch for and report any possible cold weather problems.
  • The sprinkler system should be inspected annually by a licensed contractor. The contractor should demonstrate to all of your employees how all valves operate. You should then assign to an appropriate employee the responsibility of shutting down the system in the event of a burst pipe.
  • Check on your building’s fire protection systems more frequently than normal during cold weather.

What if?

If, even after giving it your best shot, Mother Nature gets the upper hand and freezes your fire sprinkler system, you should act immediately to mitigate the possibility of additional damage and to reduce the chances of fire that could devastate your business.

  • Contact your local fire department about your sprinkler system being out of service.
  • Do NOT attempt to repair the system yourself. Contact the service professional who inspects the system.
  • Any hazardous activity should be stopped until the system has been repaired.
  • If not already a policy, implement and enforce a No Smoking policy in the area.
  • Place additional fire extinguishers throughout the area.
  • Until the system is repaired, the affected structure should be monitored 24/7.

If damage does occur to your property and you need to file a claim, contact your insurance provider immediately.

Snow and Ice

While accumulations of snow or ice can damage property, the greater risk they pose are to your customers and employees, causing slips, trips, falls, and back injuries. Removing snow and ice as soon as possible from parking lots, walkways, porches, patios, steps, and entry ways should be a priority during winter.

If your business has its own snow removal equipment, it should be inspected long before the first snow fall. This includes:

  • Shovels
  • Snow blowers/snow throwers
  • Snow plows
  • Snow rakes
  • Salt spreaders

If you outsource snow removal, make sure the company you hire is reputable, experienced, and can show proof of liability insurance. Be specific about what you want cleared: just the parking lot, or do you want all areas where people can walk cleared as well?

Regardless of who handles your snow removal, here are a few suggestions of what you can do BEFORE the expected snow fall:

  • Place tall stakes along the driveway, walkways, and around the parking lot. These stakes show you or your snow removal company where to shovel, plow, or put down ice melt. You may know where the edges of these areas are, but your snow removal company may not.
  • Clear your parking lot of all vehicles that don’t need to be there.
  • Make sure you have an adequate supply of sand or ice melt on hand, especially for walkways, steps, porches, and patios.

Your Real Winter Enemy

Ice – whether from melted snow or rain – can be the real enemy in winter. No matter where your business is located in the U.S., you’ve no doubt faced a winter ice storm at some point.

Ice can cause a great deal of bodily harm. Slips, trips, or falls can result in sprained ankles, broken bones, head injuries, or worse. What’s particularly hazardous is ice you can’t see – hidden under a layer of snow, making it extremely slick. Extra caution should always be taken when shoveling snow should there be ice underneath.

Your customers will, rightfully so, assume your parking lots, walkways, steps, and porches will be free of ice when they arrive at your facility. Your company could be held liable should an accident occur that harms someone. Your employees should take whatever steps are necessary to clear snow and ice from all areas where people will be walking.

Employee Exposure and Safety

As they do so, your employees should be instructed on how to best clear the snow and ice safely. They are as susceptible to injury as your customers. A worker’s comp claim is only a slip, trip, fall, or twisted back away when employees are clearing snow and ice. Your employees should be instructed on the proper use of snow blowers and snow throwers as well as the proper technique for shoveling snow. Older employees are especially susceptible to heart attacks when shoveling snow, especially a heavy snow.

Conclusion

Winter weather is often unpredictable at best, and with it comes particular risks for your organization, regardless of location. By being proactive and diligent, you can take certain steps to mitigate those risks to your property, your customers and employees. As a business owner or manager, understanding the exposures your business has allows you to have an educated discussion with your insurance agent or broker who can provide you with the most competitive rates in your area.

For more information about VGM Insurance and our comprehensive coverages, or to speak with one of our insurance experts, call 800-362-3363 or email info@vgminsurance.com

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