This article first appeared on iamagazine.com and is reprinted here with permission.
By Jacquelyn Connelly
According to a recent report from Impact Forecasting, a catastrophe model development center at Aon Benfield, the harsh winter weather experienced by most of the U.S. in the month of January drove insured losses in excess of $1.4 billion.
Scientists at Impact Forecasting report that the current winter season has already been the costliest one in years for the U.S.—and it’s not over yet, according to weather forecasters that predict at least six more weeks of winter in many parts of the country.
“This has been a very difficult winter for you, for me and for insurance companies,” said Thomas Gray, risk control consulting director at CNA, in a recent winter weather preparedness webinar.
So how can agencies prepare—and help commercial clients prepare—for the long stretch ahead? CNA offers the following tips:
Pay attention to temperature recommendations. During the winter, keep building heat at 40 degrees F or above, if possible—especially in areas protected by wet-pipe sprinklers and those that contain equipment that relies on water to work properly, such as boiler rooms or air compressors. Since water freezes at 32 degrees, following the 40-degree rule provides a little cushion that prevents accidents.
And take special measures in areas that have minimal heat, such as attics, basements and penthouses, and find safe ways to send heat up to the attic and roof. “You don’t need lay-on-the-beach temperatures,” Gray said. “You just need it 40 degrees or warmer. Heat will rise if you give it a way to get up there.”
Avoid sprinkler system freeze-ups. When automatic sprinklers and water supplies freeze up, it’s not only an expensive repair process—it also leaves facilities without fire protection and opens the door for severe water damage when spring finally comes around.
“The freeze is bad; the thaw is even worse,” Grey said. Whether yours is a wet-pipe, dry-pipe or pre-action sprinkler system, make sure your insulation is up to snuff and you follow temperature recommendations where your sprinkler pipes live.
Ensure heating systems are working efficiently. In addition to making doors, windows and openings to buildings weather-tight, check your facility’s heating system before the next cold snap comes your way. Make sure you have adequate fuel supply for heating systems—Grey warns that many areas of the country are experiencing propane shortages or strong draws on the natural gas supply, all of which affect heating capabilities.
“If you’re relying on a particular fuel and that fuel’s in short supply, you want to obtain an adequate quantity of it if you can, or seek out an alternate fuel source,” Grey said.
Minimize snow loading that causes roof collapse or damage. Since roofs are not designed to withstand the weight involved with severe snow accumulation, it’s important to remove snow both during and after a storm to avoid damage or collapse. While brand-new buildings designed with the latest codes are probably better equipped to handle several feet of snow accumulation, older buildings require more careful examination.
“Inspect roof conditions on a decent weather day to see what indication of damage there might be,” Grey suggested. “Maybe there are some things you can do to at least get you through the winter to the spring, when the full repairs can be done.”
Keep your employees safe. In inclement weather conditions, consider early closures or delayed starts to ensure employee safety getting to and from work. Better yet, allow employees to work from home if it’s a viable option. And make sure the office has more than one way to get in touch with employees, whether that means email, a call-in number, a designated portion of your website or a text message alert system.
“Put safety ahead of production,” Gray said. “You’re able to work better when you have a safe, comfortable work environment.”
Jacquelyn Connelly is IA assistant editor.
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