Nine months after Winter Storm Uri wreaked havoc across the Southern and Midwestern United States, businesses and people are still recovering. In Texas, a state that experienced massive power outages and more than 200 deaths during the storm, many residents now wonder whether the state is any better prepared if a similar storm hits this coming winter season.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), which recently released its winter forecast, we can expect another La Niña weather pattern this year. While differences in the forecast will vary day-to-day, we can largely expect warmer temperatures and drier conditions across much of the southern U.S. These patterns occasionally spread north along the Eastern Seaboard. For the Pacific Northwest, La Niña often brings wetter and cooler weather.
For Texans and others living south, the news should bring a welcome sigh of relief. However, extreme cold fronts can happen regardless of the weather pattern predicted, and it only takes a few variables to come together to create significant winter weather—just as we saw last year’s La Niña weather pattern. Even during warmer conditions, many parts of the U.S. will still see significant weather events during the season.
These sudden changes in weather patterns require companies to plan and prepare well ahead of the winter season. Data consistently shows that people are far likelier to be injured or die during winter than during any other season. But, by taking the right precautions, you can keep your workplace better protected from the hazards of winter weather and ensure the safety of your employees.
How Winter Affects Businesses and Employees
According to OSHA’s winter safety precautions, there are a variety of weather-related hazards that employees may be exposed to during winter, from dangerous driving conditions to the risks that come with shoveling snow and working outdoors in the elements. According to the Federal
Highway Administration, over 1,300 people are killed, and more than 116,800 are injured in vehicle crashes due to winter weather conditions each year. What’s more, the group with the highest death rates in winter accidents tend to be employees on their way to or from work.
But it’s not just icy and snowy roads that businesses need to worry about during the winter months. Workplace-related illnesses like the flu affect businesses all across the country, keeping people home, reducing productivity, and disrupting normal business operations. In fact, before the pandemic, two-thirds of U.S. businesses reported their company lost more than $100,000 per year due to workplace-related illnesses.
Beyond that, winter weather can also indirectly impact businesses through school closures and flight delays, decreasing employee engagement and productivity.
Six Essential Tips For Staying Safe During Winter
The good news is that much of the weather experienced during the winter months can be foreseen, enabling you to mitigate or even eliminate its impact on employees and business operations. Let’s explore how.
Create a Winter Preparedness Plan
Creating a winter preparedness plan outlines how your organization will respond to any number of winter weather risks. Your plan should include what you and others must do before, during, and after an event, and it should spell out roles and responsibilities during each phase. Identify when and how your team will make important decisions, including when to close the office or have employees leave work early.
Your plan should also include a winter storm preparation checklist. This should consist of everything from securing windows, doors, and outdoor equipment at the office to sending reminders to employees to take precautions leading up to and during a storm. Every company’s checklist will be different, but it should include every task that will need to be done from the moment a storm hits through to the recovery period.
Lastly, your plan needs to include how you’ll train executives and employees on your approved responses. Rehearse various winter weather scenarios with key leaders and people managers, and have them reiterate your winter safety measures with employees.
Monitor Emerging Threats
The primary challenge to monitoring for winter weather threats is that many of them are hyper-local. For organizations with a modern, distributed workforce, that means it’s not enough to track threats in one location—they need to be able to track the myriad of threats that could impact all of their dispersed employees, and doing so manually is near impossible.
For this reason, many organizations rely on threat monitoring software to track these types of threats automatically. For instance, AlertMedia’s Global Threat Intelligence solution provides up-to-date, verified information about winter storms before impacting businesses or people. It allows you to send location-based alerts to anyone in your company that needs to know about potential winter safety hazards in their area in real-time.
Safeguard Lone Workers
On the topic of a dispersed workforce, businesses also need to consider lone and mobile workers. These individuals work by themselves without close or direct supervision, and examples include contractors, field workers, home healthcare nurses, social workers, realtors, fleet drivers, and others. For these workers, travel typically plays a significant role in their jobs, and poor road conditions can put them in dangerous positions.
To protect them during potentially hazardous winter weather, develop a comprehensive lone worker safety program. First, consider the wide variety of hazards they may face while on the road, from ice and snow to other vehicle accidents. For each threat, list all of the possible precautions and control measures you could take and then evaluate the costs and benefits of each. This will help you determine if you can control or eliminate the associated risks and, if so, how.
Finally, invest in lone worker technology that includes a personal alarm system that lone workers can easily access and activate to signal for help. AlertMedia’s Employee Safety Monitoring solution provides the most comprehensive solution for lone worker safety by combining powerful mass notification capabilities with the support of a 24/7 monitoring team and direct connection to law enforcement. This way, even employees who work alone are never truly on their own.
Prepare Your Facilities
Fortifying your facilities for winter requires comprehensive planning and meticulous attention to detail. Leading up to the winter season, be sure to conduct regular inspections and maintenance of your offices, supplies, and equipment. You should check carbon monoxide detectors, elevators to walkways, and evacuation routes. This will allow you to obtain any materials needed to maintain them before the storm is at your doorstep.
Some additional preparations and precautions to take in advance of a winter storm warning include:
- Inspect all roofs and make sure there aren’t any chances of a leak or worse
- Add pipe insulation to protect plumbing and prevent frozen pipes
- Test your HVAC and lighting systems
- Ensure all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order
And lastly, develop a power outage backup plan. During a winter storm, one of the primary concerns is the loss of power because snow storms and harsh winds often knock down power lines, which can shock employees and even cause loss of life. Consider keeping portable chargers and battery banks on hand and train employees on how to stay safe during an outage. Invest in a backup generator, and make sure to backup all important data at regular intervals.
Keep Everyone Informed
Just as important as physically preparing for winter weather is having a plan for how – and with whom – you’ll communicate when a storm occurs.
To do so reliably, make sure you have accurate contact information on hand for all employees and anyone else who might need to be warned about potential hazards, including your landlord, utility provider, or even your insurance company. When it comes to disseminating storm-related information, ensure you have a plan beyond email and manual “phone trees.” Instead, consider using a purpose-built emergency communication system that enables the fast, reliable delivery of critical information to any size audience, on any device, over any communication channel. Additionally, a modern emergency communication system can help you save time during inclement weather with features like pre-built notification templates to expedite communication, real-time delivery performance statistics to confirm message delivery, and HRIS integration to ensure accurate contact information.
Lay out communication protocols well in advance, and make sure everyone understands how you’ll be communicating before, during, and after an event. Employees should know whether to expect a phone call, text, email, or all of the above and more.
Conduct Employee Wellness Checks
It’s not enough to push notifications to your people. You need an emergency communication solution that also enables two-way messaging, allowing employees to confirm their safety status and indicate whether they may need additional assistance.
Conducting employee wellness checks comes in handy in other scenarios besides immediate emergencies as well. About five percent of U.S. adults experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) every winter due to fewer hours of sunlight each day. Checking in on your employees throughout the season to ensure they have access to the mental health resources they need will help them feel supported and happy to be a part of your organization.
Winter can have a chilling effect on employee safety, workforce productivity, and business operations, but it doesn’t have to. By preparing ahead of time and planning how you’ll communicate with your employees and other third parties in the event of an emergency, you’ll keep your employees connected and informed and your business safe. With AlertMedia’s emergency communication system, you’ll be able to reach all o f your employees instantly – whether they are in the office, traveling, or working remotely. Our threat intelligence combined with two-way, multichannel communication ensures everyone gets the messages they need, when they need them and prevents severe winter weather from wreaking havoc on your business.