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Prep Your Worksite for Disaster
Winter storms can range from a moderate snow over a few hours to a blizzard that lasts for several days. Storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures and, sometimes, by strong winds, icing, sleet and freezing rain. As an employer, you need to begin preparing for potential property damage and interference to your business operations.
According to the National Weather Service, about 70 percent of injuries during winter storms result from vehicle accidents, and about 25 percent of injuries result from being caught in a storm. Learning how to prepare for winter’s nastiest weather and avoid hazards when it occurs will help keep you and your employees safe.
Common winter threats to your organization include:
Before the Storm
There are many simple precautions companies can take before the weather event occurs, said Bob Boyd, former president and CEO of Agility Recovery, a provider of business continuity and disaster recovery solutions. Mitigating actions include:
Reviewing your insurance coverage. Boyd recommends sitting down with your business insurance agent at least once a year, to be clear about what is actually covered in your policy.
“You can’t buy the specific types of business-disruption coverage you need the day after you get hit by a snowstorm or your roof collapses,” he said.
Determining your greatest risk potentials. “What do you do if you lose heat, or your pipes freeze, or you lose access to your facility? Do you have two or three communication redundancies if there’s a communication breakdown?”
Establishing and communicating an inclement-weather attendance policy for employees. “The last thing you want to do is put your staff in harm’s way,” he emphasized. This needs to be communicated ahead of time so employees know what to expect when work is delayed or called off. “I would never jeopardize employees’ safety just to get extra work out of them. If it looks like it will be dangerous, send them home or let them stay home, so they don’t get stuck on the roads with everybody else.”
Meeting with key vendors and discussing winter-weather preparedness.
Identifying who is responsible for clearing snow and ice.
Establishing a procedure for restoring electrical service. Boyd stressed the importance of knowing your electrical-load demands ahead of time. “Very few businesses actually know how big a generator they need to maintain power in their facility, and you can’t order one without knowing that. Any electrician can tell you how big a generator you need within 15 seconds of looking at your electrical panel.” But you’ll have difficulty finding an electrician the day a disaster occurs, he added.
Determining whether alternate access to your business is needed in the event of inclement weather.
Filling the gas tanks of any critical business vehicles.
Stockpiling emergency supplies. Be sure to include rock salt—or, preferably, kitty litter—and snow-removal equipment, Boyd said.
Servicing generators and topping off fuel reserves.
Ensuring that all battery-powered devices have new batteries or crank/solar chargers.
Inspecting and servicing heating equipment.
Finding out which local broadcasters will publish your business’s operating status to the public. “They want to do it; you just need to contact them,” Boyd said.
Ensuring redundant communication channels. Start simple and make a list of every employee’s home and cellphone numbers, e-mail addresses, their relatives’ and spouses’ contact info, and backup contact info. “Now you have a variety of phone numbers and e-mail addresses you can use to reach your staff,” Boyd said. He urged employers to do more than make a list and actually conduct emergency-contact drills with all staff.
Establishing remote access to your website to update visitors about the organization’s status. “Most people wouldn’t know how to access their website to alert customers about their operating status.” Boyd advises businesses to designate an employee who has access to the site to make bad-weather announcements on it.
Zero Hour: the Storm Is Imminent
Now is the time to execute your plan. “Be clear and decisive, and trust your plan,” said Boyd.
Things to keep in mind while sheltering from a storm:
Prepare to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours. If your plan is to wait for rescue services to come by, you’re going to be cold and hungry, Boyd said.
After the Storm
You’ve survived the storm—now what?
“Do not get in your car and drive until conditions are safe to do so,” he warned. “Nobody knows how to drive on ice.”
When you have the chance, inspect your facility for downed power lines, snow accumulation on the roof, icy walkways and parking lots, and frozen pipes. “Notify the critical people about any damage sustained, and update the local media and your customers of your operating status.”
Protect Against Cold Hazards
Whether working outdoors or not, people in some U.S. regions will have to brave the cold this winter. Working in cold environments, especially for extended periods, can lead to cold-stress problems such as frostbite, hypothermia and trench foot.
“Protective clothing is the most important way to avoid cold stress,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) advises. What you wear makes a difference. Cotton loses its insulation value when it becomes wet. “Wool, silk and most synthetics, on the other hand, retain their insulation even when wet,” OSHA said.
When working in cold environments, the agency recommends:
It also advises workers to drink plenty of liquids but to avoid caffeine and alcohol.
If possible, heavy work should be scheduled during the warmer parts of the day.
Engineering controls can be effective in reducing the risk of cold stress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that employers:
“Employers should use appropriate engineering controls, personal protective equipment and work practices to reduce the risk of cold stress,” OSHA states. “All of these measures should be incorporated into relevant health and safety plans.”
Prevent Wintertime Slips, Falls
Snow and ice bring an increased risk of injury caused by slips and falls due to slippery sidewalks, parking lots and work areas.
Generally, injuries suffered traveling to and from the workplace are not deemed to have occurred in the course of employment, but if your employee falls and is injured in your parking lot, it’s likely the individual will be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits—regardless of who’s responsible for snow removal.
The suggestions below, compiled by Bloomington, Minn., workplace comp insurer SFM, will help your employees avoid slips and falls this winter.
Talk with employees about things they can do to avoid slips and falls this winter. Tips include:
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.
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