Canadians are accustomed to the gusting winds, heavy snow, and freezing temperatures associated with our harsh winters. Severe weather combined with a lack of preparation can have dire consequences for building owners; structural damage, freeze-ups, and flooding are just the tip of the iceberg. Frequently, unprepared properties expose organizations to liability claims from slip, trip, and fall incidents.
These outcomes may be mitigated with the right advance preparation. The checklist below, while not exhaustive, can be an effective part of your facility’s risk control measures.
1. Building and Structure
The importance of building maintenance should not be overlooked when preparing for winter. Look for any evidence of past damage to your building’s structure. Pay special attention to damaged roof equipment that may need replacement and take note of any areas of potential instability during winter weather.
- Review building additions or new roof equipment that may increase snow drifting. Excessive snowdrifts increase the weight applied to roof structures (e.g. air conditioners, fan housing, antennas, signs) and can lead to roof collapse. Areas where snowdrifts are likely to occur include:
- Intersections of low and high roofs.
- Valleys between two peaked roofs.
- Intersections of roof and roof-mounted equipment.
- Maintain roofs in good condition, including repairing leaks and securing flashings.
- Check that all roof equipment mounts are secured against damage during heavy winds.
- All building openings should be weather-tight so they will not permit cold air to enter that could in turn cause water pipes to freeze.
- Ensure trees that could fall when laden with wet snow or ice are not overhanging the building.
- Check yard drains and parking lot catch basins are clear.
- Test low building temperature alarms (where applicable).
- Ensure sump pumps are operational and equipped with monitored alarms with battery back-up.
- Know the location of all water shut-off valves in case of a burst pipe.
2. Heating Equipment
Boilers, furnaces, and other heating equipment must be inspected and maintained in accordance with regulatory and manufacturers’ guidelines. Winter storms may result in power failure, which may deactivate your heating system. If this occurs, water-filled piping (for example, sprinklers, domestic water pipes, air conditioning systems, and radiator pipes) may freeze and rupture. As part of your checklist:
- Ensure scheduled service contracts are in place for all heating equipment (boilers, furnaces, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) including pre-winter servicing.
- Bleed radiators.
- Store combustibles safely away from heating equipment.
- Turn off and drain water supplies during extended power failures when building interior temperature could drop below freezing. When pipes cannot be drained (radiator pipes, for example), temporary heating may be required.
3. Snow Maintenance
Keeping active walkways, stairways, driveways, and parking lots clear will help reduce the likelihood of slips, falls, and motor vehicle accidents. Designate a safe area for dumping snow and keep in mind that melting and freezing will occur until the snow pile is gone. Remember to:
- Maintain adequate supplies of shovels, sand, and salt on-site.
- Ensure all snow removal equipment is in good working order.
- Consider utilizing a snow removal contractor for snow removal or to assist during major snow events.
- Ensure access is maintained to fire hydrants, fire routes, and emergency exit doors.
- Monitor snow levels on roofs and utilize a snow removal contractor to remove snow from roofs during major snow events.
- Identify snow plow obstructions so they are visible under heavy snow (obstructions include fire hydrants, parking barriers, curbs, and speed bumps).
- Address and/or relocate downspouts that may create icy conditions on pathways.
- Maintain adequate snow logs of all snow removal activity including date, time, weather conditions, and extent of work performed.
4. Snow Logs
Snow logs should be maintained, retained on file, and as a minimum, record the following:
- Date and time.
- Extent of work performed.
- Weather conditions.
- Person performing the work.
- Comments (items of concern, hazards, etc.).
5. Winter Grounds Inspections
During the winter months, recorded exterior grounds inspections should be performed at least twice daily, in addition to keeping snow logs — to ensure entrances, pathways, and parking lots are free of slip or trip and fall hazards. Ice can form on surfaces when the temperature drops below the dew point, and snow and ice can thaw and refreeze on walking areas.
6. Snow Removal Contractors
A formal contract should be in place, including but not limited to the following:
- Time to respond.
- Accumulation amounts.
- Service areas.
- Snow storage areas.
- De-icing materials (who makes the decision – contractor or client?).
- Application rates.
- Existing damage to property.
- Incident response procedures.
- Snow removal around parked vehicles.
- Insurance clauses - hold harmless/indemnification.
You can mitigate winter weather impacts on your facility by preparing ahead of time. It is important that the issues highlighted above be addressed by the appropriate personnel within your organization. Most importantly, by having documented winter maintenance routines in place you can:
- Reduce the likelihood of slip and fall incidents from occurring in the first place.
- In the event of a slip and fall claim, you can illustrate due diligence by showing all reasonable steps were taken to maintain a safe property.