The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer, and the cold weather is here. You know what that means: it’s time to winterize your business against insurance claims.
Don’t let something like a slip and fall on an icy sidewalk, with an average settlement of $10,000 to $50,000, freeze your business!
Ensure your small business remains safe, reliable, and open throughout the cold weather months with these ten tips to winterize your business against insurance claims.
Tip #1 – Know Your Risks
To safely prepare for the risks posed by inclement weather, you need to contemplate what the threats are beyond snow and ice. Consider the following:
- Seasonal illnesses (colds, flu, RSV, COVID-19, etc.)
- Dangerous driving conditions
- Closed roads
- Slips & falls
- Frostbite & Hypothermia
- Delays and cancellations (deliveries, supplies, flights, employees)
- Power outages
- Internet outages
Understanding the risks your business faces from winter weather beyond the obvious will help you be better prepared to withstand challenges and succeed.
Tip #2 – Know Winter Weather Terminology
What’s the difference between a Winter Storm Watch, a Winter Weather Advisory, and a Winter Storm Warning? It’s all about the intensity and likelihood of inclement weather affecting your area. Watches are the least severe, while Warnings are the most severe.
Use these definitions to interpret your local meteorologist the next time you tune into a winter weather report, and keep your business and your people safe by taking appropriate actions.
Winter Storm Watch:
- Normally issued 24 hours in advance of a storm.
- Indicates the risk of hazardous winter weather to life and property and has at least a 50% chance of occurring.
- Location, timing, and occurrence are still uncertain.
- Gives enough lead time to make safety plans.
Winter Storm Watches are upgraded to either an Advisory or Warning when the likelihood of inclement weather rises to an 80% chance or higher.
A Blizzard Watch means conditions are favorable for a blizzard event, which is defined by:
- Low visibility, less than a 1/4 of a mile
- Winds 35 mph or above
There are two types of advisories issued by the National Weather Service:
- A Freezing Rain Advisory indicates that ice accumulation of up to 1/4 inch is expected.
- A Winter Weather Advisory is issued for one or more of the following:
- Snow of 3 to 5 inches in 12 hours.
- Sleet accumulation up to 1/4 inch.
- Freezing rain combined with sleet and/or snow, or blowing snow.
There are three types of Winter Storm Warnings issued by the National Weather Service:
- A Winter Storm Warning indicates that heavy snow of at least 6 inches in 12 hours or at least 8 inches in 24 hours is expected. It can also be issued if sleet accumulation will be at least half an inch.
- An Ice Storm Warning indicates that ice accumulation of at least ¼” is expected.
- A Blizzard Warning indicates that blizzard conditions (low visibility of less than 1/4 mile due to falling and/or blowing snow and winds of at least 35 mph) are expected for at least 3 hours.
You may also be familiar with the term Cold Wave. A Cold Wave is a rapid fall in temperature within 24 hours and extremely low temperatures for an extended period. What constitutes a Cold Wave depends on what area of the country you live in and is defined by the National Weather Service (NWS) weather forecast office.
Tip #3 – Prepare for a Winter Wonderland
Winter means snow and ice, which means workplace hazards such as icy walkways and snowy parking lots. Removing these hazards is a given for any business, but have you considered other winter hazards caused by snow and ice storms? Here are some you may not have thought of:
- Downed or Broken Trees/Branches
- Structural Issues from Snow/Ice Build-Up
- Wind Damage
- Falling Ice
Make sure you have the tools and means to remove these threats to your customers and employees, such as shovels, buckets of ice melt, and a snow removal plan in place well before the snow flies.
You’ll want to prevent ice build-up on sidewalks, entrances and exits, as well as ensure there are no tripping hazards indoors or outdoors. Keeping indoor floors dry with fans, heaters, and mops is also a good practice, as is ensuring your outdoor property is in good condition to avoid tripping or slipping hazards that could lead to insurance claims.
If you operate a business year-round, you’ll want enough business insurance coverage to fill any gaps that might arise during the winter months.
If you operate a seasonal business such as a Christmas tree farm or a snow removal company, you may want to purchase seasonal business insurance so you’re protected against the unexpected.
You’ll also want to stay tuned into the weather and any storms blowing your way. Check local weather sources and follow state and local inclement weather guidelines to ensure you and your employees travel safely.
Tip #4 – Designate a Snowstorm Captain
Is there someone in your business solely responsible for making sure that your walkways, sidewalks, parking spaces, exits, and entranceway floors are safe and dry?
What about communicating company policies, such as temporary closures, to your employees and customers?
If not, there should be. Otherwise, you could be opening yourself up to legal liability.
You will want to ensure that someone is responsible for removing hazards from your place of business, that they understand the importance of their role, and have the necessary tools and resources to execute it.
If you’re using a third party, like a snow removal or landscaping company, make sure your contracts are in good standing to prevent service gaps. This includes understanding what your service provider’s contractual obligations are and what your business is responsible for.
In most cases, your snow removal company won’t be on your property 24/7 during snow events, so the burden will fall on you to maintain a safe working environment.
Tip #5 – Check Your Buildings
These eye-popping statistics reveal just how risky operating a small business can be.
Ensuring you’ve got the proper insurance coverage is prudent because the chances are you’re going to need it.
But how do you choose the best insurance company for your small business needs?
Select an insurance company with an “A” rating that is well-established and has a reputation for excellent customer service, quick payout on insurance claims, and solid coverage.
Are you ready to protect your dreams and achieve your business goals? Find an agent near you today. We look forward to the opportunity to serve you!
Tip #6 – Prepare for Power & Internet Outages
Power outages are all too common during the winter. Snow and ice build-up, high winds, motor vehicle accidents, and downed trees can all knock out power.
How will you safely deal with power outages?
Moving around in the dark opens your business up to risk, which means you’ll need a supply of emergency items on hand. Consider investing in:
- Emergency Lighting
- Evacuation Procedures
- Back-Up Generator
- Data Solution to Prevent Data Loss
- Communication Plan
- First Aid Kit
- Water & Snacks
These resources can help your people (and your data) stay safe if they suddenly find themselves in the dark.
Tip #7 – Prepare for Extreme Cold
If your employees work outdoors, they must have the proper gear to fend off the cold. Hats, gloves, coats, socks, boots, insulated underlayers, and even hand warmers may be needed depending on the type of business you operate.
You should also know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
Signs of Frostbite
- Cold skin and a prickling feeling
- Skin that looks red, white, bluish-white, grayish-yellow, purplish, brown, or ashen, depending on the severity of the condition and usual skin color
- Hard or waxy-looking skin
- Clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness
- Blistering after rewarming, in severe cases
- Frostbite is most common on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks, and chin
Signs of Hypothermia
- Exhaustion or feeling very tired
- Fumbling hands
- Memory loss
- Slurred speech
If you or one of your employees believes that they or a coworker may have frostbite or hypothermia, seek immediate medical treatment since prolonged exposure can lead to permanent damage.
Tip #8 – Inclement Weather Business Hours
Not only is it polite to let your customers and employees know you’ll be closed, it’s also a safety issue.
Why have customers or employees risk their safety out on the roads if you’re not going to be open?
Use social media, a recorded phone message, text, and online business listings like Google Business to communicate that you’ve had to close due to inclement weather. For retail stores, post a sign on a window or door as well.
Tip #9 – Winterize Company Vehicles & Equipment
If you operate a business that relies on company vehicles to operate, then you’ll want to ensure that your fleet remains reliable and at full capacity. Use these tips to winterize your company vehicles and help prevent insurance claims.
- Keep gas tanks half full (or more) to prevent water vapor from freezing in your engine’s fuel line and preventing it from starting.
- Make sure your oil is rated for cold temperatures. Even 10W-30 can get too thick, so check your owner’s manual before the cold snap hits.
- Cold weather can compromise engine belts, so check regularly for cracking or fraying.
- Maintain appropriate fluid levels, so your vehicles run at peak efficiency.
- Check and clean batteries and spark plugs.
- Install winter wiper blades to maximize visibility.
- Install winter tires.
- Make sure all lights and signals are fully operational.
- Check brake pads and shoes.
Tip #10 – Safe Winter Weather Driving Tips
Our tips to winterize your small business against insurance claims wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t mention safe driving during inclement weather events.
While you can’t control how slippery or dangerous the roads might be, these are some measures you can take to help maximize the safety of your employees and vehicles:
- Make pre-inspections of vehicles a routine. This should include tire pressure, wiper blades, fluid levels, brakes, and lights.
- Communicate the hazards of winter driving and which actions your employees can take to improve safety.
- Communicate that black ice often forms on and around bridges and underpasses and is difficult to see.
- Instruct drivers to be extra cautious at intersections, stop lights and signs, and while merging.
- Tell your drivers to give plenty of room to other vehicles.
- Allow drivers extra time to get from place to place.
- Communicate ways to handle skidding, sliding, and stopping in poor conditions.
- Supply emergency kits with warmers, flashlights, water, road flares, snacks, emergency blankets, and even a change of clothes.
- Make sure your drivers tune into local weather forecasts for up-to-the-minute weather updates.
- Allow your drivers to pull over and wait out the bad weather if they deem it’s too risky to continue traveling.
- Consider pulling your drivers off the road if the weather becomes too severe.
Don’t forget to review your commercial auto insurance plan as well to make sure you have the coverage you need to protect your business interests should you ever need to file insurance claims.
We hope you found How to Winterize Your Small Business Against Insurance Claims useful. These tips will help your business thrive during the coldest times of the year and combat the unexpected challenges posed by winter weather.
*Disclaimer: We offer content for informational purposes; Co-operative Insurance Companies may not provide all the products listed here. Please contact your local agent to find out more about how we can help with your insurance needs.