5 Winter Tips to Avoid Workplace Injuries

Winston-Salem, NC 12/30/2014

With the slick conditions, injuries are eleven times more likely to occur than in normal conditions.  Accidents ranging from minor slips and falls to major injuries such as broken bones are common.  Do not wait for the injuries to occur.  Below we discuss Five Ways to be prepared for the long winter haul:

1. Get supplies stocked and ready to rock

Try not to be caught off guard. If the company is responsible for snow removal and salting, stock up on bags of salt and sand and have them ready to use, near the areas to be applied.  Inspect the shovels and brooms for wear and tear and make sure they are in good working order.  When using a plow truck for the parking lot, be sure the plow is properly installed and lubricated, and perform yearly maintenance on the vehicle to avoid breakdowns or damage. For employees who work outside, consider providing ice grips for shoes. 

2. Inspect the entryways, stairwells, and mats
People have to enter your building somewhere, so be sure that your exterior mats are functional.  Some employers have special winter mats, made with extra durable material to stand up to the wear and tear of the outside elements. Non-slip bottoms, and rougher fiber mats can brush that outside snow and salt off of boots and shoes so those materials are not dragged into the work areas.  Standing water from melted snow posts a dangerous hazard, and is one of the leading causes and slips and falls.  Falls often result in serious injury; anything to prevent them is likely to be worth the time and cost for your company. 
Most stairwells will be covered in an anti-slip coating; check and make sure that the surfaces are doing the job they are supposed to do.  Also check handrails to make sure they are not loose. 
3. Have an outside vendor perform the plowing and salting
 If you own your parking lot and maintain the salting and plowing, consider using an outside vendor to take care of this task.  These vendors will likely carry their own liability insurance policy, and if injury occurs, these policies can shift the risk to them, instead of to the employer.  Make sure that the vendor does not try to "sneak" in hold harmless clauses into their contract.  If this is the case, the employer agrees to waive any liability towards the vendor, shifting the risk back to the employer for primary coverage.  Most vendors keep their contracts open to negotiation, so have your legal counsel inspect the contract for gaps in coverage should an injury occur.  Subrogation is a right in most jurisdictions, and an employer should be able to pursue this course if injuries occur within certain circumstances.  Most vendors will do their best to get hold-harmless language into their contracts;  almost all vendors that perform snow removal will have this type of wording in their contracts.  
4. If leasing the space in a building, review the specifications of who is responsible for injury
If you are a tenant in a building, or are leasing the space for the entire building and parking lot, ask the building manager for a copy of the lease contract to review the exact responsibilities of the building manager. Do not assume that because you are leasing a suite in an office building, and a worker falls on the way in, that you are 100% responsible for the loss.   An opportunity to file a subrogation claim against the building’s owner's insurance carrier can easily be missed.  Building owners will often avoid saying exactly how their coverage will respond to an injury before they are faced with a specific suite.  Do some research and find out exactly what scenarios are the employer’s responsibility, and what scenarios will fall under the building manager’s coverage.
5. If inclement weather happens, consider canceling work for the day
Should a major storm arrive, consider a snow day for workers.   Create a telephone and email list so that employees can relay messages on to one another regarding work status.  Make sure to have an up-to-date recording on the company voice-mail.  Avoid calling everyone at 6:00 AM to advise them that work has been canceled for the day.  Set up parameters for automatic cancellations.  If snow accumulations total over 12”, or if freezing rain on roadways is creating “black ice” situations, cancellations should be automated.  Be sure that all of your employees know the exact parameters.  Make sure there are automatic procedures in place for inclement weather cancellations and late start instructions.
Statistically, winter months create more hazards than summer months. Snow and ice can lead to dangerous conditions both on the commute to work, and within the workplace itself.  Be sure to be prepared for these conditions by performing the tasks listed above.  It is far more costly for a company to incur serious injuries to their employees than it is for them to simply prevent them.

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