The cold weather season brings unique exposures for rental operations. To mitigate those risks and ensure the safety of your employees, property and customers, now is the time to make a plan and assign employees tasks so you are on top of the situation, says ARA Insurance preferred agent John Stocco, commercial insurance consultant, Johnson Financial Group, Minneapolis.
“When we talk about changing weather, there are two main areas that impact insurance. The first is related to property. In the winter months, we have accumulating snow and ice, causing snow loading. The first concern is the roof. You need to make sure your roof can handle the additional load and that you have plans in place to mitigate that exposure as much as you can,” he says.
To help in this area, Stocco offers his clients a building checklist.
Regarding snow-loading, he says to:
- Look at whether there have been lower roofs, canopies or covered walkways added to the structure. If they have, consider the effects of sliding or drifting snow.
- Consider whether the roof has been retrofitted with additional insulation or whether solar panels, heaters, other mechanical equipment or anything else has been added to the building that could impact the load on the structure.
- Make sure all drains, gutters and downspouts are free of debris and kept clean and cleared.
To prevent fire sprinklers or water pipes from freezing, you should:
- Inspect the building and check for open windows, doors and dampers that don’t fully close or other areas that have undergone recent construction or renovation.
- Have a schedule whereby someone regularly inspects your operation, including on the weekends, evenings and holidays.
Slips and falls also can increase with inclement weather. To prevent them, Stocco says to:
- Develop a written plan that outlines individual responsibilities. If you are contracting out snow removal, make sure you have a plan that the contractor puts in place, documenting frequency of snow and ice removal and uses of sand or calcium chloride. Be sure to document what you are doing, including specifying the type of treatment used for surface conditions.
- Have a specific individual monitor the weather each day. Make certain that person walks the surface and checks on conditions, ensuring things that are supposed to be completed get done. Also make sure that individual is equipped to take a photo if a slip and fall occurs, capturing all the information you can in case a claim occurs. That individual can help monitor whether the sanding or salting is completed either internally or through a contractor.
- Have an area designated away from entrances, sidewalks and walkways where snow can be stacked to minimize thawing and freezing in patches.
- Post appropriate warning signs and block off high-hazard areas such as downspouts that could create water runoff across the sidewalks and result in ice puddles.
- Monitor floormats. If they are worn out, they can contribute to a slip and fall. Make sure they are dry and recycled frequently and that the floor is mopped.
- Check on exterior lighting. During the winter season, lights are usually on longer, resulting in the need for more frequent bulb replacements. Good lighting is important as snow and ice hazards are more readily observed and black ice will shimmer during dawn and dusk periods. Make sure bulbs are replaced when needed and good lighting is present at all times.
“It all comes down to having a plan in place and documented to minimize exposures for your property and slips and falls by your employees and customers,” Stocco says. “Slips and falls are the biggest areas where we see claims during the winter months. Having a solid plan in which actions are documented can help defend a snow-and-ice-related claim.”