As the holiday glow fades, building owners and property managers need to consider the cold, hard truth of winter: it can be the longest three months of the year. Freezing temperatures, ice, and unpredictable storms pose serious risks to office buildings and the workforce. Whether the sales team is in-person, hybrid or remote, there are key winter preparations every business should consider.
Winterize the office building(s)
If the office is fully staffed, building owners and managers are likely going around every day to ensure security. However, according to a 2021 Return to Work Survey by Deloitte, approximately 50% of U.S. businesses operate on a hybrid model, which can result in certain sections of your office being closed or infrequently used. If this is the case, or if the office is closed due to a winter storm, it is important to observe the following safety instructions:
- Check circuit breakers in electrical panel to ensure all circuits are working properly
- Open the faucets so water trickles out until the freezing cold subsides to keep water moving and help prevent pipes from freezing,
- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing
- Close the blinds to keep the heat inside the office space
- Minimize the opening and closing of office refrigerators to keep perishables cool
- Adjust diffusers to better circulate heat in dead ends or enclosed spaces
- Close unused rooms without plumbing to avoid wasting heat
- Unplug expensive electronics and appliances to avoid damage from power surges once power is restored in the event of an outage.
Prevent Frozen Pipes
Ensuring adequate heat and monitoring facilities are important steps, as frozen pipes can cause some of the most common and costly cold weather problems. The risk of burst pipes can increase when businesses are closed or unoccupied, such as when a major winter storm shuts down businesses and office buildings. Even a short time, like a weekend, can lead to blockages, breaks, and disruptions.
Practice business continuity management
It’s never too early to prepare. Business Continuity Management (BCM) helps a business prepare for and plan how it will recover from a disaster. Business continuity planning requires time and effort from all areas of the business, but in the long run, having a business continuity plan (BCP) in place can help reduce losses, save lives and speed up recovery after a major emergency.
To start the business continuity and disaster recovery planning process, building owners and managers need to break down the plan into key business processes. From there, they can work on each item one at a time, identifying the critical tasks needed to keep those processes running. Then they can determine if there is a need to create alternate sources for these tasks, either within the organization or through third parties. Here are some recommendations to help develop and implement a plan:
- prepare in advance
- establish mutual aid agreements with similar companies
- identify potential alternative sources, processes or locations
- create a separate action plan for an emergency
- develop a recovery plan
- test the BCP and train employees
- keep the PCA up to date
Create a winter storm plan
A 2021 report from the Insurance Information Institute (III) found that winter storms caused $2.1 billion in insured losses in 2019 and are often referred to as “misleading killers.” Indeed, weather conditions are rarely the only cause of death in winter. It is the winter weather combined with other contributing factors that results in a significant number of deaths each year. That’s why it’s important to know what building owners and property managers can do before, during and after a storm to help protect employees, property and businesses.
Protect from flooding
Floods can happen anywhere, anytime, and are caused by more than just precipitation. Snowmelt, hurricanes, and new residential or commercial project developments around a property can also cause flooding. Even if the property is located high on a hill or in the desert, it can still be flooded. According to The Hartford, more than 20% of flood-related claims come from properties outside of high-risk flood zones. Most commercial property insurance policies do not cover flood damage. With a standard flood insurance policy through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), building owners and property managers can protect their facilities, contents, or both. Insuring both covers damage to walls, floors, equipment and fixtures, as well as furniture, appliances, wall and floor coverings, clothing, audio equipment and televisions.
Reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls
Slip and fall accidents can be very costly whether they involve employees or a third party legally on the scene. Each year, these accidents result in thousands of workers’ compensation or liability claims. This risk can increase significantly with winter conditions. Therefore, it is important to help prevent potential claims by addressing all outdoor areas where businesses can expect to have foot and/or vehicular traffic and ensuring the property has a sufficient lighting during the shorter winter daylight hours. This process is not a “one and done” event. It is imperative that facility owners and managers frequently inspect and address potential hazard areas to help prevent potentially costly losses.
Kenneth Travers is Technical Director – pproperty and product specialist for The Hartford. He has over 42 years of experience in the field of risk engineering, developing and providing loss control engineering services and assessment tools for complex businesses, with a focus on natural disasters , business impact, supply chain and fire protection engineering applications.
Ryne Carney is Head of Mid to Large Business Real Estate Products at The Hartford. He has nearly 20 years of experience in underwriting and commercial property products.