Maintaining a secure and comfortable environment is always among the top priorities of business owners, landlords, and facility managers who welcome employees, tenants, and visitors to their properties. Yet, as the days get shorter and more leaves begin to fall, it’s only a matter of time before winter hazards strike. Since businesses can be held liable for damages that arise from unintentional injuries or accidents that occur on their grounds, autumn is the perfect time for property managers to ready their premises—and safety policies and procedures—for the months ahead.In addition to complying with all state and local health, building and safety codes, here are some best practices to help reduce the risks associated with seasonal changes and promote a safety culture among employees:
Patrol the Property
Before ice covers the outside walkways, take a good look around the property and make note of any areas where repairs might be needed. This should make your winterizing efforts easier and more organized.. Be sure to take a close look at:
- Greenery – aside from the obvious (e.g. fallen tree limbs), look out for overgrown shrubbery that might get in the way of recreational cold weather walkers or snow removal vehicles. Plan to have a landscaper visit the property to clean up the trees and bushes, remove debris left over from fall leaves, and prepare the grounds for snow, ice, and snow removal tools.
- Surfaces – examine floors, stairs, steps, sidewalks, and parking lots for anything that might lead to trips, slips, and falls. These include wires, doormats, cracks, holes, changes in elevation, and poorly placed trash cans and furniture. Remember, falls account for over 8 million hospital emergency room visits, representing the leading cause of visits, at 21.3% (National Floor Safety Institute).
Prepare Systems for Winter
During the winter months, your property draws from more resources to keep the building(s) properly heated and lit. That means there’s more potential for wear-and-tear—and an increased risk of appliance or fixture failure. Before the temperatures drop and the nights get longer, make sure you have a professional technician inspect the following:
- Electrical systems – all indoor and outdoor electric cables, outlets, appliances (including space heaters), lighting and fixtures should be checked for wear and tear and serviced or replaced.
- Security systems – from ceiling-mounted cameras to motion-detected lights, all security tools and equipment should be tested, cleaned, and recharged for the long months ahead.
- Heating systems – proper maintenance and servicing of heating systems is critical to the efficient and safe usage of these systems. Please refer to manufacturer’s suggested maintenance plans, or consult with your local heating contractor.
- Fire detection systems –smoke detectors, heat detectors, and sprinkler systems need to be evaluated and kept in working order. In fact, every piece of your fire safety plan requires a tune-up before the holiday season, when fires are more likely to strike. For more about minimizing the effects of fire and related hazards, visit the National Fire Prevention Association. For winter fire safety tips, you can also review the U.S. Fire Administration’s fire safety outreach resources
Keep Employees In-the-Know
Your employees are important allies in keeping your property—and everyone on it—safe from harm. Communicate safety and health policies and guidelines to the workforce on a regular basis and give them opportunities to ask questions and share their ideas. Involving them in the safety process helps empower them to take accountability in the event of an accident or injury, making them a dependable part of the solution. Because accidents do happen, make sure employees are prepared with working knowledge of your emergency evacuation procedures and have access to emergency contact numbers.
Fortunately, much of what you’re already doing to comply with various OSHA laws (e.g. provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards) is helping to protect employees and visitors from illness and injury. (See the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration Employer Responsibility web page for more information.) But enhancing your property safety program with more employee training, for example, encourages the entire workforce to take your efforts to the next level.
Do an Insurance Check
Make sure your insurance is up-to-date. Speak with your insurance agent and thoroughly review your coverages before the busy year-end. You want to make sure your insurance includes coverage for property damage, liability, loss of rental income/business interruption, flood insurance—and/or whatever best meets your company’s current needs. And you should ensure your policies have appropriate coverage limits to adequately protect you from potential damage.
If you have further questions on property grounds safety, please contact your Acadia Loss Control Representative. If you are not a current Acadia Insurance customer, please contact your local independent insurance agent for information or to obtain a quote.