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Some cold, hard facts on winter risks to property

March 27, 2018

Effects of extreme cold, snow, ice, sleet and freezing rain should be considered in your winter hazard control program to help prevent or reduce losses.

winter sidewalk

Winter wonderland or winter woes? Depending on where your business is located, you may be more focused on the woes, especially if property management is part of your operations.

Whether it’s a record-breaking cold snap or just the expected seasonal elements, winter brings unique risks to property.

Extreme cold, snow, ice (including “black ice”), sleet and freezing rain all can create hazards with serious impacts. Some of these hazards are obvious. Others are easier to overlook, but all should be factored in as you develop a winter hazard control program to help prevent or reduce potential weather-related losses.

Snow removal risks

Heavy snowfall can create serious structural challenges and put members of your workforce at risk.

Significant snow accumulations on rooftops present the potential for overloading and even building collapse. Additional challenges face buildings with parapet walls, photovoltaic arrays (solar panels) or other rooftop equipment installations. These items could result in additional load on the roof due to the effects of sliding and drifting snow. It’s vital to have qualified engineers confirm a roof’s snow-load capacity and verify that it can support additional loading. Learn more in Zurich’s RiskTopics guide, “When to Initiate a Roof Snow-Removal Plan.”

For workers, clearing snow can be dangerous, whether it’s from the roof or off an entryway sidewalk. When snow is heavy, this is a physically demanding task that creates health hazards such as heart attacks, strains and sprains, and hypothermia.

Maintaining the surfaces on your property

Accumulation of snow and ice is a common cause of slips, trips and falls (STFs). Clearing sidewalks, driveways and parking lots is important, but so is filling potholes and repairing sidewalks. It may be impossible to keep all those areas cleared during steady snowfall, making cracks, holes and uneven surfaces even more dangerous because they can’t be seen.

“Black ice” — ice that appears invisible, making surfaces simply appear wet — is an STF threat for workers hurrying along a walkway. Be sure to monitor paths and use salt or other ice-melting products as needed.

Maintenance of drainage systems is also key and should be completed before the coldest weather and precipitation occur. If water isn’t draining properly, ice can accumulate in spots where it shouldn’t. For more tips on preventing winter STF injuries, look at our Slip Trip and Fall Safety page.

Ice from above

Sleet and freezing rain are often confused. Sleet, which starts as snow, melts when it hits a warm air mass, refreezes when it encounters a cool layer of air and lands on the ground as frozen precipitation. Unlike snow, sleet is less likely to stick to cars, power lines and trees, but it still accumulates on the ground and poses an STF hazard.

Freezing rain remains a super-cooled liquid throughout the atmosphere until it reaches the ground, where it freezes on contact. It can cause energy outages when thick coatings of ice form on power lines, creating business interruptions. More specific to property, freezing rain accumulations can cause trees and branches to fall under its weight, adding a potential for structural damage if the trees are close to a building.

Extreme cold, from the outside in

Severe drops in temperatures can adversely affect the interior of a building as much as the exterior. Frozen water lines and sprinkler piping present substantial exposures to property risks if a pipe breaks and causes water damage. Additionally, a frozen sprinkler pipe can impair fire-protection systems, putting people and overall property at risk.

Adequate building heating systems should be provided in areas with water piping, and dry-pipe sprinkler systems should be considered in areas exposed to freezing temperatures. Additional proactive steps include verification that heated spaces are well insulated, along with proper inspection, testing and maintenance of dry-pipe sprinkler systems. Winter weather planning should be undertaken well in advance to help safeguard buildings from freezing temperatures.

Of course, even with a well-developed winter hazard control program in place, a weather-related crisis may occur. Your business plan for seasonal risks should include procedures for immediate medical assistance if needed, and handling incidents and claims, including claims notification, documentation and prompt investigation.

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