Winter arrives like clockwork every year, bringing cold-weather hazards that can threaten the health of your employees and your business. Preparing for the extremes of winter weather means a renewed focus on winter injury prevention due to an increase in winter slip and fall accidents for businesses in regions where significant snowfalls, ice storms and extreme cold snaps are regular events. Developing a strategy to protect employees and others from injuries due to slips, trips and falls (STFs) is not only the right thing to do, it’s a cost-effective precaution to reduce premises liability and to elp prevent workers’ compensation, disability and potential liability claims.
What goes into the formation of an effective winter STF prevention strategy?
- Assess your readiness for winter
Before the snow falls each year, review the physical condition of exterior walking surfaces used by employees, customers and others during the winter months. Proper maintenance of sidewalks, driveways, parking lots and garages is one of the ways to reduce common slip and fall injuries at any time of year. However, ensuring that walking surfaces are in good repair is even more critical during the winter months. Filling potholes, repairing sidewalks and improving drainage to prevent pooling that can become treacherous ice hazards should be completed before the cold weather arrives. Remember that freeze/thaw cycles hasten the deterioration of damaged concrete and asphalt, amplifying trip and fall hazards and increasing repair costs when winter ends.
Snowfall may also conceal walking and driving hazards otherwise readily visible during good weather. Assess potential hazards that might be concealed by snow or ice, such as gravel, parking blocks, curbing and speed bumps, and mark them with signs or barriers. Inspect trees, bushes, signs or other obstructions that could block walkways or vision, and keep shrubbery pruned. Consider relocating signs or other objects that could be hazardous – a good move at any time of the year, but even more critical in winter. Keep in mind that winter days can be dark. During winter months, your facility’s exterior lighting or illumination inside garages may not be adequate. Be sure lighting is maintained and sufficient to keep all walkways and other exterior areas well illuminated.
- Prepare your defenses
Confirm that you have adequate and readily available snow removal equipment on hand, including sturdy snow shovels. Make sure that preventive maintenance is up to date on snowblowers, tractors and other motorized snow/ice removal equipment. Purchase and store adequate quantities of ice melt, sand or other treatment chemicals in the fall. Before storms strike, transfer and keep ice melt or sand in ready-to-pour containers. Push spreaders are ideal for distributing uniform coverage of walkways with necessary ice melt and sand.
- Secure external snow removal contractors
What arrangements are included in your agreements with local snow removal contractors? Do you need to call them on a case-by-case basis, or will they automatically deploy when snow levels reach a certain depth (such as two inches)? Remember that a prompt response will do more than help ensure employee safety. It will also enhance your ability to serve customers more readily during and after inclement winter weather.
What to do when the snow falls
While you work to prevent slips, trips and falls from impacting your employees and business with the activation of your cold-weather response strategy, keep these three additional tips in mind:
- As snow is cleared from parking lots, sidewalks and other surfaces, apply long-lasting ice melt to all walking surfaces, paying special attention to sidewalks, steps, ramps and areas around steps.
- Deploy walk-off mats to allow people to wipe footwear. Prevent a buildup of water, snow and other foreign substances. Remember that walking from a treated sidewalk onto an interior marble floor can result in an STF injury. Provide umbrella bags to prevent water from dripping on floors.
- During the winter months, workplace injury prevention may become even more critical. Educate employees to wear sturdy winter footwear to prevent slipping. 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 at home before leaving for work.
For more information, read Zurich’s STF assessment guide. It can help you evaluate and assess potential risks in your facility, including the 10 best practices for high-traffic areas. Other organizations, such as the National Safety Council, also offer tips to help prevent winter STFs.
For additional tips on winter walking safety, see Zurich’s special RiskTopics article
on the subject. Be sure to visit our Severe Weather Knowledge Hub
page for additional information.