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Winter is coming: Now is the time to prepare for the unexpected

December 8, 2017

Maintaining your facility to prevent winter slips, trips and falls (STF) is no easy task. Here are some tips to help reduce STFs during the icy winter months.

Worker's Compensation Line of Business Director

Clayton has over 35 years of experience in the areas of occupational health and safety, industrial... About this expert

shovel snow

For some people, the winter months bring continued sunshine, dry walking surfaces and clear roadways, but for many it’s a time of year that brings cloudy days, fractured bones and vehicle accidents. Simply put, winter produces beautiful snowscaped scenery, but also potentially hazardous living conditions. Whether walking in front of your home or business, getting into your car to drive or exiting a parking lot, winter can result in sudden accidents and injuries. However, a little prevention can help reduce seasonal slips, trips and falls (STFs).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produces seasonal outlooks to help communities prepare for what's likely to come and help minimize the weather's impact. NOAA forecasters predict a cooler and wetter winter in the North, and a warmer and drier South for 2017-2018. Check out their site for current updates as you plan for the season.

First, let’s prepare:

Review physical considerations. Check any walking surfaces that may be impacted by snow and ice. Properly maintaining sidewalks, driveways, parking lots and garages is one of the largest contributors to reducing slip, trip and fall injuries. Performing preventative maintenance – including filling potholes, sidewalk repairs and improving drainage – should be completed before the coldest weather and precipitation occurs.

Are there potential hidden hazards in the event of snow or ice? Consider using signs to mark any areas where there is gravel, parking blocks, curbing, speed bumps, etc. This way, these potential hazards are made clear when a snowfall occurs. Inspect trees, bushes, signs or other obstructions that could block walkways or vision. Keep shrubbery pruned and consider relocating signs or other objects that could be hazardous. Winter days can be dark. Where exterior lighting or lighting inside garages may be present, it may not be adequate on dark days. Be sure lighting is maintained and sufficient to keep all walkways well illuminated.

Second, get your tools ready:

Have sturdy shovels available and make sure they are in good condition. Perform preventive maintenance on your snow blowers, tractors and other motorized snow/ice removal equipment. Purchase and store adequate quantities of ice melt, sand or other treatment chemicals. Before storms strike, keep ice melt or sand in ready-to-pour containers. Some companies use push spreaders for this task. Make sure you have walk-off mats available to place inside building entrances.

Third, check contracts for snow plow services or any vendors assisting with snow removal:

Do those service providers need to be called for or will they automatically come when snow levels reach a certain depth (such as two inches)? Knowing this will make the first snowfall easier.

For more information, see our slip, trip and fall assessment guide. The guide can help you evaluate and assess potential risks in your facility. Zurich has identified ten main contributing factors to help you evaluate STF risks.

Now that we’ve planned, here are three tips to emphasize when winter weather strikes:

  1. Assure that snow is cleared from parking lots, sidewalks and other surfaces. Proactively apply long-lasting ice melt to all walking surfaces, paying special attention to sidewalks, steps, ramps and the areas around steps.
  2. Use walk-off mats to wipe footwear and prevent a buildup of water, snow and other foreign substances. Walking from a treated sidewalk onto an interior marble floor can result in a slip/fall injury. Provide umbrella bags to prevent water from dripping onto the floor.
  3. Promote and encourage winter walking safety. Educate employees to wear sturdy winter footwear. This may mean carrying heeled dress shoes in a bag to work, rather than wearing them outdoors. When snow and/or ice is forecast, encourage employees to allow enough time to clear walkways before leaving for work.

Maintaining your facility to prevent winter STFs is no easy task, but having a comprehensive maintenance and STF-prevention program, along with responding to snow/ice-covered surfaces promptly, can go a long way toward reducing painful and costly injuries. Happy trails!

For more information on winter walking safety see our RiskTopics article. Visit our Severe Weather Knowledge Hub  or the Slip Trip Fall Knowledge Hub for additional information.

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