Winter may conjure up imagery suitable for a Norman Rockwell painting: sitting by the fire with a hot drink in hand, enjoying the twinkling lights and decorations, and watching through the window as snowflakes drift lazily through the air. But the reality is that the business impact of winter weather is anything but idyllic.
The economic impact of a simple snowstorm can be upwards of $1 billion. And it’s not just companies in the path of those epic nor’easters that need to take heed. Last winter, unusually cold weather as far south as Florida even caused several theme parks to close.
Every business faces changing risks as winter approaches—whether winter brings rain, snow, or plummeting temperatures. But being prepared for the many hazards of winter weather can help you better manage the impact of such incidents on your employees, your customers, and your bottom line.
Here are four steps you should take now to prepare your business for the winter months ahead:
Step 1: Assess Your Risks
There are a number of hazards businesses need to watch out for once the temperature starts to drop. 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 dangerous risks that businesses face when winter arrives. In fact, in 2014 there were more than 42,000 workplace injuries and illnesses involving ice, sleet, or snow.
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, and even how your employees work will all affect which risks pose the greatest danger to your people and your business.
Here in Austin, even small amounts of icy precipitation brings the city to a standstill. But while infrequent, icy precipitation may be a major winter weather risk here and across the southern U.S., frigid temperatures and blizzard conditions pose a major concern for New England-based businesses. Similarly, a law firm may face different risks than a construction company. A company that employs a great deal of remote workers will have different concerns than a business of office-based employees. The point is, every business will have different considerations to take into account when it comes to winter preparation.
Since you can’t prepare for something you don’t anticipate happening, it’s important to conduct a thorough risk assessment based on your company’s unique attributes to identify the main threats and dangers winter weather may pose to your organization.
Step 2: Determine Who’s Responsible
When a snowstorm hits, who needs to ensure the office parking lot is safe and drivable? 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 what.
Your organization is accountable for your employees’ overall safety and well-being. To fulfill your employer’s duty of care, you must ensure all necessary safety precautions are taken—regardless of whether those precautionary measures are actually executed by your organization or a third party. Before winter comes, 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. Having this team will help avoid confusion, finger pointing, and missteps when it matters most.
Step 3: Make a Plan for Each Threat
Once you’ve identified your risks and determined who is responsible for completing each of the precautionary measures, create a specific action plan for each winter weather hazard you may encounter to eliminate ambiguity and keep everyone on the same page.
Sign up for relevant winter weather alerts and warnings and outline clear triggers for when and how you will make important decisions, like when to close the office or tell employees to leave work early. Develop a checklist of things that you and others must do before, during, and after a winter weather event. And, as part of that list of things to do prior to a winter storm, be sure to conduct regular inspections and maintenance of your offices, supplies, and equipment. You should check carbon monoxide detectors, elevators to walkways, and evacuation routes. This will allow you to obtain any materials needed to maintain them before the storm is at your doorstep.
And remember that you should not be preparing for winter weather in a vacuum. It’s great to have a plan—but even the best-laid plans fall short if your business leaders and employees aren’t also prepared. At a minimum, you should rehearse various winter weather scenarios with key leaders and people managers, and train employees on the topic of winter safety.
Step 4: Keep Everyone Informed
Having a plan for how—and with whom—you will communicate when winter weather hits is equally important. Have accurate contact information on hand for third parties you may need to contact. Depending on the various action plans you’ve identified, this may include your utilities provider, landlord, and insurance company. Identify how you will disseminate storm-related information and maintain contact with employees during winter weather events. It’s also important to consider how you will keep customers and suppliers informed of any impacts to your business. They also need to know about things like office closures or delayed openings.
To communicate effectively, use technology to your advantage. Email and phone trees are no longer enough to keep employees informed and connected when winter weather hits. If you rely solely on these methods to communicate with employees and a bad snowstorm causes a widespread service outage in your area—as is often the case—many employees may never get the message.
An emergency mass notification system—with features such as multi-channel delivery, two-way communication, live map tracking, pre-built communication templates and easily updatable event pages—can help you ensure all employees receive the information they need, when they need it. And to communicate with employees whose job may require them to be on the road or in the field even during winter weather conditions—like healthcare, transportation, or utilities workers—a 24-hour emergency monitoring solution that combines a mobile app with an expert monitoring team can deliver even greater safety and security confidence. SafeSignal is AlertMedia’s lone worker safety app that will protect your lone workers during winter.
Winter Storm Preparation Ensures Employee Safety and Business Continuity
Winter can have a chilling effect on employee safety, workforce productivity, and business operations. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The good news is that you can predict and plan for the risks associated with winter weather. Doing so will help you mitigate or even eliminate the impact of those risks on your employees and your business. By taking these four steps to prepare your business, you can ensure employee safety and business continuity all season long.
Planning For Winter? Download our Winter Preparation Checklist