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Prepare Your Company for the Winter Ahead

December 4, 2018
 
Winter weather emergencies can include everything from floods and power failures to blizzards, ice storms, and sub-zero cold snaps. Most employers must remain open regardless of the conditions to service customers. So it’s time to plan for the upcoming winter weather’s impact on your business. 
 
One good first step is to review the company’s current inclement weather/emergency response policy to ensure it is up to date. Make sure the policy covers:
 
The company’s policy on whether or not to close or limit personnel at work. Will the company remain open in most instances? Will it close when the governor declares a state of emergency? Be sure the information is in the policy and clearly explained. Here are some examples of language an employer could use:
 
It is the policy of the Company to remain open for business during all regularly scheduled hours whenever possible unless a state of emergency is declared by the governor.
 
In cases of severe weather, the personal safety of employees and their families is paramount.  Decisions about reporting to work, remaining at work, or for other business-related travel, will always be made with this is mind.
 
If you have any questions or need guidance related to individual situations, please ask your manager and/or Human Resources.
  • Identify which employees are required personnel and ensure all contact information is up-to-date
  • Review your pay programs to determine if, when and how employees will be paid based for occurrences.  Can they use paid time off (PTO), vacation and/or unpaid time?
  • Identify in advance who will determine whether and when the organization will close for part of the day or close early. One way to manage this, depending on the size of the organization, is to consider including multiple management positions in a decision-tree process to ensure that the decision is made as quickly as possible as events occur. 
  • Determine how employees will be advised of the decision (Call-in number?  Web site?  Direct call?  Email?)
  • Ensure emergency personnel are trained and familiar with their responsibilities, 
  • Ensure all employees have details on what to do in the case of an emergency.  Include procedural drills.
Know your business:
  • Determine the impact of emergencies on the business and what pre-planning strategies you should adopt now.  For example, if the company is without electricity for a long duration, how will this impact any inventory and/or products? Should you consider back-up generator purchase/rental agreements now?
  • Train and prepare managers and crews for outdoor work (if applicable) and safety requirements.
  • Hold team accountable to all safety requirements.
Winter can bring on cold stress, especially if your business involves outdoor work or exposure to the cold (e.g. loading dock, driving). To minimize risk, train your workers: 
  • how to recognize the symptoms of cold stress, prevent cold stress injuries and illnesses;
  • about the importance of self-monitoring and monitoring coworkers for symptoms;
  • about first aid and how to call for additional medical assistance in an emergency;
  • how to select proper clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions.
Detailed information on cold stress and how to cope with it is available from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Web site
 
Adopt Safe Work Practices
 
Depending on your business these may include:
  • Providing workers with the proper clothing, tools and equipment to do their jobs;
  • Developing work plans that identify potential hazards and the safety measures to protect workers;
  • Scheduling maintenance and repair jobs for warmer months;
  • Scheduling jobs that expose workers to the cold weather in the warmer part of the day;
  • Avoiding exposure to extremely cold temperatures when possible;
  • Limiting the amount of time spent outdoors on extremely cold days;
  • Using relief workers for long, demanding jobs;
  • Providing warm areas for use during break periods;
  • Providing warm liquids (no alcohol) to workers;
  • Monitoring workers who are at risk of cold stress;
  • Monitoring weather conditions during a winter storm, having a reliable means of communicating with workers and being able to stop work or evacuate when necessary;
  • Acclimatizing new and returning workers by slowly increasing their work loads, and allowing frequent breaks in warm areas, as they get accustomed to working in the cold;
  • Having a means to communicate with workers, especially in remote areas;
  • Knowing how the community warns the public about severe weather: outdoor sirens, radio, and television.
OSHA offers advice to help employers protect employees who work outdoors in cold environments.  Prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures may cause serious health problems such as frostbite and hypothermia. Danger signs include uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue and confused behavior. 
 
For free copies of OSHA's Cold Stress Card in English or Spanish, go to OSHA's website or call 1(800) 321-OSHA.
 
Please call the AIM Employer Hotline at 1-800-470-6277 with questions about this or any other HR issue. Access to the Hotline is for members only.
 
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