How Businesses can Prepare for Winter

14 December 2017

The winter months provide property management companies, ski hill and arena operators, restaurants, hotels and more, with a host of additional risks associated with the inclement weather. A renewed focus on risk management can mitigate any potential losses and protect owners, tenants and managing agents from costly business interruptions.

PROPERTY DAMAGE EXPOSURES
Cold or extreme weather presents additional risks to the fabric of a building. Preventing such damage from occurring in the first place should be a priority as even relatively minor damage can affect the business operations of the tenant, leading to potentially substantial loss of rent and business interruption, as well as property damage claims.

Property claim frequency increases during autumn/ winter compared with spring/ summer. Certain claims, such as storm damage, increase nearly 60% during these winter months.

Developing a prudent inspection, testing and maintenance procedure prior to the onset of the worst of the weather will help identify problem areas of a building and will go some way to minimizing potential damage.

Inspections can help manage risks such as:

  • Freezing temperatures, causing burst water pipes and tanks
  • Burst pipes can cause significant amounts of damage. It’s estimated that a 3mm crack in a pipe can discharge over 1000 litres of water a day, causing damage to fixtures and fittings and potentially serious structural damage.

Some simple steps to avoid and mitigate this type of situation are below:

  • Maintain temperature of at least 6 degrees Celsius, particularly if your property is going to be empty for period of time i.e. over a holiday period such as Christmas
  • Water storage tanks should be maintained at a minimum temperature of 10 degrees Celsius
  • Check the insulation on pipes and water tanks, and consider replacing or upgrading if there is insufficient cover. The recommended standard for pipe lagging is a minimum of 50mm and preferably 75mm
  • Repairs to all wet systems should be up-to-date
  • Ensure the location of the stopcock is known to tenants/ agents and they are appropriately trained in emergency procedures
  • Where sprinklers are installed, it is essential that sufficient heating is maintained to prevent frost damage. Alternate wet and dry systems must be switched to a winter setting and regularly bled to remove excess water
  • For vacant properties where heating is not maintained, water systems should be drained where possible. Site visits from specialists are particularly valuable in these situations
  • Ensure that antifreeze in any plant is adequately topped up

For properties that are particularly vulnerable, consider the installation of water loss detection alarms and shut-off valves.

Storms
High winds will expose any frailties in the maintenance of the building and exacerbate the effects of heavy rain or snow by further damaging drains or roofs.

The following can minimize the effects:

  • Any loose items on roofs, facades and general external areas need to be removed/ secured to prevent them becoming wind-blown debris
  • Trees near buildings need to be properly assessed to minimize the risk from falling branches as they have potential for not just damage claims, but liability claims from the public
  • Business continuity plans must be robust to deal with potential interruptions from downed power infrastructure
  • Debris removed from drainpipes to avoid water damage from overflows

Flooding
Flooding is, from an insurance viewpoint, associated with inundation from a watercourse. However, damage from heavy rains which overwhelm drainage systems can be equally devastating and may affect properties not normally identified on flood maps.

Preventative measures are the best course of action, along with a robust action plan to implement should the need arise.

  • Be aware of severe weather warnings; define a water level at which an emergency plan should be initiated
  • Ensure drains are cleared on a regular basis
  • Prepare appropriate physical protections against water ingress. Consider sump pumps in basement areas which could flood
  • Stock, machinery and other contents which are susceptible to water damage should, where possible, be stored on upper floors. If this is not possible, store items on shelves or racks in order to reduce the possibility of damage

LIABILITY EXPOSURES

Slips and trips
There is an increase in slip and trip claims during the autumn/ winter months compared with spring/ summer. Compare this to other liability claims such as third party property damage which remain stable throughout the year.

Those in charge of sites have a duty to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of those on their property. With the onset of wet, cold weather, the instances of slips and trips is likely to rise.

  • Gritting plans should be put in place where risk assessment identifies high risk areas. Snow or ice build-up, especially around entrances, parking lots, walkways and shortcuts, sloped areas and continually shaded areas
  • Accumulation of wet and decaying leaves on pathways can increase the chances of slips
  • Algae or moss also present a hazard which would not be present in the summer months
  • Icy weather (i.e. repeated freezing/ thawing) more likely to lead to or exacerbate potholes/loose paving - check and repair regularly

Seasonal decorations
Decorations during the festive period contribute significant additional risks to fire safety and potential accidents, both with installation and for the public from falling items.

Christmas lights and electrical decorations should be regarded as a source of heat and a potential point of ignition for fire. They should be kept away from combustibles and switched off at night. If you are unsure as to the coverage provided by your insurance in regards to these types of decorations, your first action should be to discuss with your broker before they are installed.

If you have any questions regarding how best to mitigate your properties’ exposure to winter specific risks, please email ClientFirst@jltcanada.com