Protecting your business premises against snow and ice

The colder months can bring extreme weather conditions that have the ability to cause real damage to business premises, costing owners a small fortune in repairs as well as lost trade.

Organisations have a certain level of responsibility to keep their pavements, car parks and private land clear of hazardous ice; meaning that if a member of staff or the public were to slip, they could find themselves being sued or prosecuted under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

In order to prepare themselves for the threat of ice and snow, organisations need to make sure that they are properly insured and up-to-date with the latest guidelines. With this in mind, here is some advice on how to minimise cold-weather damage before it occurs, as well as what to do if the worst does happen.

Improve your building’s energy efficiency
Search your premises thoroughly for ways that you can help to reduce heat loss, such as sealing gaps around doors and windows; covering water heaters with the recommended blankets; getting insulation for exterior walls and loft spaces; and fitting draft excluders underneath external doors.

This is ideally something that needs to be done before the winter months arrive, so that it’s not a case of ‘too little, too late.’ Prevention is the best form of protection when it comes to limiting damage caused by low temperatures, so think of it as a year-round philosophy as opposed to something you only think about when winter comes around.

Service your boiler
Your heating system will have to work harder than ever in sub-zero temperatures, which could bring out any underlying issues already present. To reduce the chances of it breaking down when you need it most, get a qualified boiler engineer to service and possibly repair your boiler earlier in the year, perhaps just after the summer. Don’t leave it until the middle of winter, when you may have to pay over the odds for an emergency call-out.

Insulate pipes
Pipes are often the first thing to be affected by cold weather, and if they freeze or break it can affect a building’s entire utility system. Protect them by insulating external pipes and those in unheated internal areas, such as basements or attics with foam or rubber tubes. These tubes should then be checked regularly, as they can erode over time.

If pipes do freeze up, locate the stop tap and switch off the water supply. Check to see if the pipe has burst, then open the affected tap so that the water can flow through as it melts. You can try warming pipes with a hairdryer or towels soaked in hot water, but do not ever use a naked flame or blowtorch to do this.

Check roofs
Building roofs can be damaged by the weight of heavy snow, as well as ice dams which form when a large amount of moisture freezes on the roof, and is topped with more snow. These can be a particular concern for building owners, as when build-ups of ice melt the water can leak through to the entire property.

Try to get your roof inspected a couple of times a year from ground level, as fallen debris such as slates or tiles can be signs of a potential problem. You should also pay attention to leaning chimneys, which can indicate that the roof is unstable and in need of repair. Remember: a heavy bout of snow is enough to collapse a worn-out roof.

If you are worried that there is a substantial build-up of snow on your roof, get a professional who has the right safety equipment to remove it for you.

Get insured
Sometimes, the best preparation in the world is not enough; so it’s essential to have adequate insurance in place should your business be affected by heavy snowfall or ice. Building and contents insurance will cover your premises in the event of damage; while business interruption cover can make up for lost income caused by being away from the site while repairs take place.