Winter may conjure up imagery suitable for a Norman Rockwell painting: sitting by the fire with a hot drink in hand, watching through the window as snowflakes drift lazily through the air. But the business impact of winter weather is anything but idyllic.
AccuWeather estimates the total U.S. damage and economic loss due to winter storms in 2019 was a staggering $8 billion. From lost wages of hourly workers to property damage to lost tax revenue, winter weather can cause a devastating economic ripple effect. And small businesses are particularly vulnerable to the impact of extreme weather: An estimated 25 percent of small businesses don’t reopen after a disaster, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety.
But it’s not just companies in the path of those epic nor’easters that need to consider winter storm preparations. The Arctic blast that swept across the nation in November 2019 affected more than 200 million Americans as far as the state of Texas. While the characteristics of winter weather vary with location, every business faces changing threats as winter approaches. Snow, rain, plummeting temperatures, COVID-19, and increased fire dangers are just a few of the threats that may impact your people and business this winter.
Whether your organization is a small business or large-scale enterprise, winter weather preparedness is key to mitigating potential disruptions. By preparing for the many hazards of winter weather, you can minimize the impact of such incidents on your employees, customers, and bottom line.
From physical winter storm preparations to ensuring employees have access to all the information they need during a winter event, here are six steps you can take to protect your business all season long.
Step 1: Assess Your Risks
There are several hazards businesses need to watch out for when it comes to cold weather. It’s not just icy roads and snow accumulation. An increased likelihood of structural stress and damage, dangerous fire activity, and slip and fall injuries are just a few of the risks that businesses face when winter arrives.
The first step to preparing your business for winter is to assess your organization’s unique risks. Where your employees live, where your offices are located, what industry you operate in—even how your employees work—will all affect which threats pose the greatest danger to your people and your business.
Winter weather threats
Here are just a few potential winter hazards to consider as you evaluate your specific risks:
Flu and other seasonal illnesses
Unsafe driving conditions
Slip and fall injuries
Hypothermia and frostbite
Flight delays and cancellations
Local school delays and closures
Structural stress and damage
Power outages (both in the workplace and for employees working remotely)
A winter storm warning is typically issued 12-36 hours before a winter event is expected to start, so vigilantly checking local news and following travel safety recommendations can help you stay on top of regional threats. But the reality is, that’s only half the battle.
What about traveling or field-based employees? Or offices in other cities? The rise in remote working due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic also presents unique safety and preparedness challenges. With an increasingly dispersed workforce, it’s not enough to track winter weather threats in one locale—you need to track the myriad of threats that could impact all of your employees, no matter where they are located.
Winter weather events are hyper-local, and tracking such a wide array of threats manually is simply not feasible. For this reason, many companies rely on a global threat intelligence solution to track winter weather threats automatically. Providing 24/7 situational awareness, a threat intelligence solution allows you to rapidly identify emerging winter threats that could impact your people or facilities, anywhere in the world.
Step 2: Determine Who’s Responsible
When a snowstorm hits, who needs to ensure the office parking lot is safe and driveable? Who will track the storm and communicate weather-related updates to employees? The midst of a storm is not the time to figure out who is responsible for these tasks.
Your organization is accountable for your employees’ overall safety and well-being. To fulfill your organization’s duty of care, you must ensure all necessary safety precautions are taken—regardless of whether those precautionary measures are executed by your organization or a third party. As part of your winter storm preparations, review your contracts with vendors, insurance providers, property managers, and landlords. There should be specific callouts for weather-related events. If not, contact the contract owners directly to determine contractual obligations and responsibilities.
Aside from outlining the responsibilities of all external parties, it’s equally important to take a similar approach internally. From keeping employees informed of rapidly developing situations to ensuring all employees are accounted for to keeping facilities and equipment in safe operating condition, preparing your business for winter requires support from a variety of internal functions.
Assemble a project team of involved stakeholders to clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of each function. This team should include departments such as HR, Facilities, Business Continuity, Emergency Operations, and IT. In a small business where functions often overlap, a clear, documented plan of who will do what during a winter event is just as important. Having this will help avoid confusion, finger-pointing, and missteps when it matters most.
Does your commercial property need snow removal services? Call Property Perfect today: (651) 777-7530.