We’re approaching winter quickly, and that means small business owners have a responsibility to maintain their premises.
Some of the steps you need to take as a small business relate to general safety.
For example, you should have a plan to keep your walkways and sidewalks free of snow and ice, which can present a fall risk.
This winter is also unique in some ways because of COVID-19. You might, as a business owner, want to take additional steps to prepare for a particularly rough flu season.
The following are some of the things you need to do and know to prepare your small business for winter.
Winter Emergency Safety Kit
It’s always a good idea to have a winter emergency safety kit at home but also your small business. This is especially important if you live somewhere that winter is extreme or you get a lot of snow.
Your employees could get snowed in at work and need to wait out the storm. According to FEMA, some of the things to include in a workplace winter emergency kit include:
- A hand-crank or battery-charged radio
- Non-perishable food
- Bottled water
- Noisemaker to signal for help
- Copies of all of your relevant business documents
- First-aid kit
- Hand sanitizer
- Extra toiletries
- Cell phone chargers
As far as your business property, to prepare for winter, start by moving any equipment or materials that might be damaged by extreme weather, including low temperatures and snow.
All your business vehicles should be moved somewhere safe with a covering to prevent them from being damaged. Check your roof to ensure there aren’t missing materials or loose components that would be vulnerable to winds, snow loads, or water.
If you do spot roof issues, they need to be fixed right away.
Prevent frozen pipes by insulating unheated areas and adding heat tape or foam insulation to a pipe that needs it. Drain your outdoor hose and irrigation systems and install a smart leak detector or an automatic excess flow switch. This will let you monitor pipes for issues.
To prevent freezing, leave the water running slightly so there’s a flow moving through the pipes.
Remove snow and ice regularly from your parking lot, sidewalks, and entryways.
You should always salt these areas to prevent slip-and-fall accidents and put non-slip mats in front of your entryways. This protects both employees and customers.
When it comes to winter weather and your outdoor areas, a few more things to keep in mind:
- Know who is responsible for clearing your parking lot and sidewalks if your business is in a shopping center or something similar. If you own the property, you’re responsible. If you rent, your landlord may be responsible. Even so, if you don’t clarify and make sure you’re taking the appropriate steps, it could lead you vulnerable to personal injury lawsuits. If you’re a renter, your lease agreement should let you know who’s responsible.
- If you need help, hire a contractor to help you maintain your sidewalks and parking lot.
- Regardless of who’s actually going to be moving the snow, make sure you know where to put it. There are snow removal regulations that vary depending on your state, county, and city. Regardless of the regulations, you’ll need to make sure you pile snow away from foot traffic areas.
Consider a Generator
If you can afford it, having a generator can help prevent business disruption in the event of power loss.
When you have a generator, some or all of your business can remain operational. It can also help you avoid damage to your business property from freezing temperatures.
Go Over Your Insurance Coverage
The winter is always a good time to go over your insurance policy and make sure it still reflects your needs.
You should know your limits and deductibles and adjust them if necessary.
Too often business owners find themselves in a tough spot because they take a set-it-and-forget-it approach to insurance when, in reality, you should make sure it still meets your needs regularly.
Of particular relevance as we approach winter is business interruption insurance.
If you were to face a storm, for example, your business interruption insurance might provide coverage, including for lost income.
Preparing for Cold and Flu Season
Cold and flu season is on the top of a lot of people’s minds right now.
Even outside of what we’re currently experiencing with COVID-19, according to the CDC, the seasonal flu is responsible for almost 17 million missed workdays. It costs more than $10 billion in direct medical expenses.
There are a lot of different ways you can prepare your employees for cold and flu season that is also going to be helpful as we continue to deal with COVID-19.
When you plan for the flu and other viral illnesses, it is a good investment that can actually save you money and resources in the long-run.
Tips to prepare include:
- Go over core actions with your employees such as frequent hand-washing and what to do when they cough or sneeze. Place signs throughout your business reminding them of these core actions.
- Contact your local health department and ask what their recommendations for small businesses are this winter. Different locations throughout the U.S. are facing different levels of community spread. Community spread where you live is going to impact the steps you should take.
- Provide cold and flu prevention supplies to employees, such as soap and hand sanitizer, disposable face masks, and trash baskets.
- Plan for employees to miss work. You should have flexible sick-leave policies, and if possible, you might also want to think about having employees work remotely this winter, at least partially.
- Make a plan for how you’ll deal with high absenteeism levels or what you’ll do if operations are temporarily reduced.
Winter is a difficult season for businesses in a variety of ways, and 2020 is going to test many business owners.
The more prepared you can be, the better off your business will be this year as we look forward to spring.