Winterizing Your Facility Inside and Out

Winter weather brings a wide variety of different risks, and preparing for them all requires organization-wide coordination. That means keeping all areas of your facility, and all aspects of your programming, in focus as you anticipate winter months. The following are important areas to focus on:

Walkway Inspections & Communication

Slippery sidewalks and walkways are a common cause of slip, trip and fall accidents during inclement weather. Because ice and snow can melt and refreeze, it’s necessary to perform spot checks and to reapply safety measures throughout the day—especially if temperatures are projected to fluctuate. Pay particular attention to morning and evening hours, where lower temperatures and poor visibility may exacerbate slipping hazards.

All staff need to be aware of and on the lookout for slip, trip and fall hazards. It’s a good idea, however, to also assign specific tasks to relevant individuals. Specific staff duties can include the following:

  • The staff member charged with opening the facility may also be designated to complete a comprehensive and thorough assessment of the grounds, repeating the assessment throughout the day and paying close attention to both indoor and outdoor walkways.
  • Remind all staff to keep an eye out for things like ice patches around buildings, and water puddles, which may have been tracked in by melted snow.
  • Alerting members to hazards through signage and member emails or newsletters is also important, and encourages safe practices at all levels of an organization.

Note: Creating a facility-check schedule is advised, but may need to be flexible, as temperature changes affected by the time of day, and increased precipitation may call for more frequent facility-checks.

De-Icing

De-icing outside areas can prevent or minimize the occurrence of vehicle accidents and walking injuries on facility grounds. When determining which areas need de-icing, pay particular attention to the following:

  • High-traffic/high-risk areas such as entranceways and outdoor steps
  • Less obvious or back-of-house spots like the pathway to your dumpster

It may be necessary to assume that all wet surfaces can be hazardous. Even water from melted ice or snow should be deemed dangerous and will need to be properly de-iced as it has the potential to refreeze throughout the day.

Consider the following when winterizing the sidewalks and walkways at your facility:

  • If temperatures are expected to be below freezing overnight, apply deicing products prior to closing to help prevent refreezing.
  • Use colored salt products, as colored salt makes hazardous areas easier to spot, and it’s also easier to tell if an area has already been treated. The use of an abrasive like sand, in addition to other de-icing products, is highly encouraged.

Note: Remember to maintain an up-to-date and accurate log of all ice and snow removal efforts as well as facility-checks that resulted in “no necessary action”. This is essential to show that everything reasonably possible is being done to prevent incidents and injuries.

Facility Safety: Gutters, Pipes, and Faucets

Gutters, pipes, and faucets—although generally out of sight—are vital features of any building, and require as much winterizing attention as the other components of your facility. Make sure that gutters, pipes, and faucets are periodically inspected, cleaned (and repaired/replaced if need be), even during warmer seasons.

When considering maintenance of these building features, keep the following in mind:

  • If water cannot drain and then freezes, significant damage to roofs and gutters can result. Check and clean gutters of debris prior to the start of winter after all leaves/pine needles have come down in the fall.
  • Keeping building temperatures above 40°F will help prevent the freezing of pipes and faucets. If your facility will be closed over winter, make sure to set thermostats to maintain minimal temperature.
  • Insulating frost-free faucets, or attaching temporary insulated foam faucet covers, will help prevent freezing of pipes and outdoor faucets.
  • Shutting off the main water supply in empty buildings greatly reduces the risk of leaks. Draining all interior and exterior water lines, and leaving faucets open helps to mitigate freezing. Keep in mind that pipes located in areas that are exposed to freezing temperatures require additional insulation.

Note: If pipes freeze, call a professional plumber. The cost to utilize a plumber is significantly less than that of replacing piping due to improper thawing procedures.

Vehicle Preparedness

Much like facility preparedness, all vehicles can be winterized before adverse weather arrives. To ensure that your vehicle is ready for cold temperatures and precipitation, designated staff can implement and document the following measures:

  • Evaluate all tires for appropriate type and condition, replacing them as necessary.
    • Ensure that the size of your tires correspond with the requirements for your vehicle.
    • Inspect your tires for punctures or holes, paying close attention to tires that seem deflated.
    • Use the “Penny Test” to gauge the amount of tread on each tire, and if you are unsure, consult a mechanic.
  • If necessary, make traction devices readily available for drivers. (e.g. chains, kitty litter, bags of sand.)
  • If ice and snow is likely, equip vehicles with an ice scraper and/or snow brush.
  • Use windshield washer fluid (with proper anti-freeze protection), and ensure that the reservoir is full.
  • Make sure that the radiator is flushed and also protected with appropriate anti-freeze solution.
  • Be certain that headlights and directional signals are functioning and bright, and are free of any accumulated snow or ice build-up.
  • In areas experiencing particularly frigid temperatures, store emergency blankets for all potential passengers in every vehicle (e.g. Mylar blankets are especially designed to help protect against extreme cold.)

Note: Keep in mind that stopping distances increase significantly in adverse weather conditions. In fact, they can increase by as much as twelve times depending on the weather condition and type of road surface. Icy bridges and overpasses and standing water from snowmelt are particularly dangerous, and should be approached with heightened caution to preserve the safety of your passengers.