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19 January 2016Defrost Your Business Risk This Winter

Defrost Your Business Risk This Winter

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We all naturally winterise our homes: fill up the log shed or the coal hole, seal up drafty doors or windows, check the pipe lagging and get the boiler serviced. It’s no different for your business but you’d be surprised how often the office gets overlooked. Importantly, now is a good time to check your insurance policies for exclusions that might catch you out when the mercury drops.

This winter has already thrown in some curve balls: widespread and heavy flooding in Cumbria followed by snow and frost. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates the damage from Storm Desmond at £500 million and the cost of the flooding will likely be twice that of the flood damage caused across the Lake District in 20091. The truth is, we never really know what our weather’s going to dish out until we’re in the midst of it. But we do know that when she chooses, Mother Nature can bite hard.

Snow, ice, frost, trips and slips, burst pipes, rapid thawing and flash flooding create serious operational and liability risk issues for businesses around the country – across public services and transportation, property management, industry and general commerce.

Take the St Jude’s Day storm in 2013 – over 105,000 claims and an estimated £130 million paid out to fix extreme weather damage2. While such an event is an exception rather than the rule, the colder months to March mean an extra layer of chilly risk that you need to mitigate.

In this article we take a practical look at the steps you can take to protect your business from the impact of bad weather this winter.

Take a common sense approach

Much of winter weather risk management comes down to common sense – but whatever your business, you need to identify the potential risk areas and address them across the Health & Safety responsibilities to your people plus the liability and business continuity risks to your business. It’s a simple check list – from pipe work, water supply, HVAC and IT to building inspection, improving your energy efficiency and handling work from home and emergency transport for your key people.

Your winter weather risk quick summary

Access: pathways, entrances, exits, emergency exits, car parks, exterior steps and ramps mean trips and slips. Clear snow early in the day and use sand, salt or grit – never water.

Pipe work: check and protect exterior or interior pipes that may otherwise burst and flood in a cold snap.

Structural: keep roof areas free from standing snow or ice that may cause damage.

Fleet transportation: breakdowns, winter servicing and safe and/or winter tyres will all contribute to how mobile your fleet is – and how much it costs you - when a big chill arrives.

Car theft: in winter there’s always the temptation to leave the car running and pop back inside while it defrosts. Remember, most motor policies – personal or fleet - specifically exclude theft of vehicles (and loss of possessions) where keys are left in the car. Always stay with your vehicle when de-icing with the engine running.

Thawing and flash floods

Location: if your business is in a high-risk area then check the Environment Agency web site in England & Wales or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland to check for flood warnings. You can also sign up for the floodline support service - Floodline Warnings Direct - that will alert you if you are in imminent risk of flooding. Call  0845 988 1188 for details. See below for more information.

It’s snow joke: your Health & Safety responsibilities

Snow or ice on the ground means trips and slips and the potential for civil claims if you don’t follow Health and Safety at Work stipulations. Although most incidents are often minor, occasionally they can be serious.

  • Keep footpaths and walkways clear of ice and snow to reduce the risk of slipping: this duty is well established both in legislation and as a result of civil claims.
  • The Health and Safety at Work Act emphasises that access to and from places of work be kept “safe and without such risks”.
  • Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations specifically mentions keeping floors free from any substance that could cause a person to slip, trip or fall, “as far as is reasonably practicable”.
  • The Occupiers Liability Act requires that visitors to premises are kept “reasonably safe for the purposes for which they are invited or permitted to enter”.

Regardless of these legal requirements, the issue is really one of simple good management. As an employer, you need to know where the responsibility for clearing ice and snow begins and ends and how far to go in terms of gritting and clearing. A good rule of thumb is to document the risks and respond reasonably.

  • Always keep sloping footpaths safe: if it’s snowy or frosty, clear it and grit, sand or rock salt it first thing in the morning.
  • Always keep emergency exits and routes clear and safe – plus keep an eye out for any danger arising from people bringing snow into your premises on their feet.
  • Allocate responsibility for snow clearing/de-icing and check it is being carried out – plus explore options for outsourcing such duties to specialists who can take care of it for you.

Protecting your property – snow, drifting & freezing

Snow damage to assets and property during cold weather - or its wet aftermath - is another risk area that can hit your business. Roof areas collect snow quickly and it’s the weight, not the depth of the snow that causes damage.

  • Fluffy snow weighs between 5 – 20lbs per cubic foot.3
  • Packed snow weighs 0– 40lbs per cubic foot.4
  • Wet snow weighs 45lbs per cubic foot5 – this is the priority so clear it quickly. Tell-tale overload signs include: sticking doors on higher floors, visible cracking on wall surfaces and plaster cracks around door frames.4
  • Keep guttering clear and free from obstacles – you’ll need them when the thaw comes.
  • Ensure all exterior and interior pipe work is lagged and protected to prevent bursts and flooding.

Protecting your commercial assets – rapid thaw & flash flooding

Storm Desmond has put flood damage high on peoples’ agendas. Check with the Environment Agency to see if your business is located in a flood-prone area. Sudden snowmelt in winter causes flash flooding just as surely as sustained heavy rain in summer.

  • Plant and machinery: can you raise it above known flood water levels – or even positioned on the roof?
  • Sandbags: do you have storage space for ready-prepared sandbags?
  • Drainage: keep drains and gutters free of debris and other blockages with regular maintenance.
  • Obstacles: keep the roof or any terrace areas free of all vegetation that could damage the roof and let in heavy rain or snowmelt.
  • Scoping: commission a Flood Assessment Survey to set your baseline knowledge of the risks.
  • History: if your business – or the properties you manage - lie in a high-risk area, check public records to help set your flood expectations.

The practical flood protection measures you can take right now

Understanding the topography of flood risk management is one thing, but what are the practical steps you can take straight away? Here we outline the physical actions that can help cut your risk exposure.

  • Plant and machinery: can you raise it above known flood water levels – or even positioned on a roof?
  • Early warning: if your business is in a high-risk area then check the Environment Agency web site in England & Wales or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland to check for flood warnings.
  • Sandbags: do you have storage space for ready-prepared sandbags?
  • Drainage: keep drains and gutters free of debris and other blockages with regular maintenance.
  • Obstacles: keep the roof or any terrace areas free of all vegetation that could damage the roof and let in rain or snowmelt.
  • Scoping: commission a Flood Assessment Survey to set your baseline knowledge of the risks.
  • History: if you’re based in a high-risk area, check public records to help set your flood expectations. Check the flood history of your premises.
  • Water supply: check the plumbing of all equipment or infrastructure use a water supply – from washrooms to vending machines.
  • Sprinkler systems: minimise the risk of leakage with regular, thorough and manufacturer-approved maintenance processes.

Protecting your business continuity

We’ve seen it before – traffic networks paralysed and roads blocked when the white stuff falls. Your people can’t get into work or out to customers, deliveries are interrupted and business suffers. With a bit of pre-planning, you can avoid the risks to the continuity of your business:

  • Use mobile comms and the web to keep your business operating: can’t meet face-to-face? Explore videoconferencing. Ubiquitous broadband, personal smartphones, tablets and free web services like Skype, Viber or FaceTime will help keep you and your people in touch at minimal cost.
  • Identify your business-critical activities: ‘business as usual’ may not be possible so be ready to concentrate on those ‘must do’ processes and ‘must-have’ people.
  • Car sharing: it sounds simple but work out who can ‘buddy-up’; you’ll have more people in, more of the time. Find out who drives a 4x4 and use as many as possible for car sharing. Alternatively lay on minibus transport if practicable.
  • Work from home: it’s back to the technology. When everything grinds to a halt, ensure you know who can work from home and let them get on with it.
  • Work with your suppliers: if your supply chain is under threat, plan in advance. Discuss alternative options with your suppliers and/or customers so you can switch quickly and easily to Plan B.

1 PricewaterhouseCoopers – ‘Storm Desmond damage across Cumbria estimated at £500m’ .
2 Association of British Insurers (ABI) Press Office – news release at www.abi.org.uk, 5th November 2013.
3-5 Travelers Canada at www.thedominion.ca: The Keys to Business Risk Protection, 2013.

Download the Winter Weather Risk Management.pdf

 

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