EH&S Insider Blog

When Winter Comes: Facility Maintenance & Safety Save the Day

The cold and snow of winter is here, and with it, all of the challenges that winter brings to facilities maintenance. While snow and ice can be inconvenient to homeowners, for many companies, these conditions represent a crucial business issue. Closing down, even for a day, means lost business.

With proper preparation businesses can avoid or at least minimize site maintenance problems, downtime and injuries. To make sure your facility can withstand the colder weather, take a look at some of these timely facility maintenance and safety tips for the winter months.

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Prep Walkways, Loading and Unloading Areas

After a snowfall, holes and cracks in walkways can be hard for pedestrians to see. The Institute of Real Estate Management suggests checking the pavement and walkways for any problems, before snow falls. Facilities managers should fix, or at least flag, any faults in the walkways, before they are hidden by the snow. They should also check drainpipes, downspouts, and other exterior fixtures to ensure all water runoff is directed away from walkways, where it could freeze and present a slipping hazard. The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests keeping rock salt or some other environmentally safe products on hand to melt ice on walkways.

Sites that have shipping or loading docks cannot avoid dealing directly with the winter elements. Promptly clearing these areas of snow and ice and providing non-slip mats can help avoid slips and falls, notes Occupational Health & Safety magazine. Company-provided heat sources might be necessary for those who work extended hours in these outdoor areas. If heat is not available, workers might turn to their own personal space heaters, which could pose a fire hazard, the magazine notes.

Don’t Forget the Roof

Snow accumulation can lead to roof damage. The cycle of exposure to sun during the day and freezing temperatures at night could breach any faults in the roof’s structure. Facility Executive suggests inspecting roofs for problems before the snow falls, and including the roof in a facility’s snow removal plan. Facilities managers should inspect and clear drains and inspect roofs regularly throughout the winter to spot snow and ice build-up before it becomes a larger problem.

Check the HVAC System

When temperatures drop, your heating system has to work harder to compensate. Make its job easier by having it inspected, and if necessary, serviced. An HVAC contractor can make sure that your system is operating properly, which Facility Executive says should help avoid service outages and higher operating costs. At the very least, air filters should be changed. A dirty filter makes an HVAC system work less efficiently, which costs money.

Check for windows, exterior doors, and skylights for any drafts. Caulking and weather stripping can help keep warm air from escaping, which can waste energy and cause your heating system to work harder.

Prep the Pipes

Where possible, wrap pipes with insulation sleeves to prevent freezing that can lead to burst pipes, according to The American Red Cross. As an alternative, you might opt for heat tape or heat cables. A sign that water in the pipes is freezing is low or no water pressure. One way to prevent water from freezing in pipes is to run faucets at a very slow drip, which keeps water in the pipes moving. If possible, turn off the water to exterior faucets and leave those faucets open to drain the pipes.

Ice the Plants

The one place where ice is a welcome winter sight is in office plants. The dry air of winter dries out soil and room temperature water used on plants evaporates more quickly, explains HPAC Engineering. Using ice, or an ice slurry, provides water to the plants more slowly, as the ice takes time to melt. That gives the plants more time to absorb the water, and keeps them fresher for longer.

Winter is a challenging time for businesses and work sites, but with the right preparation, businesses can continue operating through the cold and snow. 

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Topics: Winter Safety