TASB Risk Management Fund

How to Avoid Common Winter-Weather Claims

December 02, 2021 Charles Hueter

ice hanging off roof

Winter weather increases the risk of burst pipes, collapsed roofs, vehicle damage, and employee injuries. Use this winter weather checklist for schools to avoid filing unnecessary claims, repairing damage, and investing resources in returning to normal operations.

Learn from Winter Storm Uri

The annual Farmer’s Almanac used a 200-year-old formula that has been fine-tuned over the centuries to predict Winter Storm Uri. The Almanac’s authors expect another winter storm in 2022, though not as extreme as what Texans experienced this year.

Follow these tips to protect your schools if extreme, sustained cold threatens the Lone Star State:

  • Establish relationships with reputable water remediation vendors in your area now, before you need them. Vendors were booked solid during and after Winter Storm Uri. Your coverage provider might offer vendor recommendations.
  • Remove vehicle batteries. Cold temperatures drain battery power.
  • Designate someone or a team to check on property periodically and look for broken or leaky pipes, like Mesquite ISD did during Winter Storm Uri.
  • File a claim with your coverage provider as soon as possible.
  • Control the damage caused by leaks:
    • Address leaks at the source.
    • Remove standing water.
    • Dry out water-soaked items.

Protect pipes, buildings, and equipment

Springtime hail isn’t the only risk that threatens your facility roofs. During the winter, it’s important to clear ice and snow from tree limbs. The added weight could cause them to break and fall on roofs, as well as power lines and vehicles. You should also remove leaves, snow, and ice from roofs and gutters, and check roofs and ceilings for loose shingles that can catch wind and trap snow or ice.

Here are a few additional best practices to ensure your facilities and equipment stand up to winter weather:

  • Lock unheated buildings to prevent people from entering and suffering hypothermia and other cold-related illnesses.
  • Keep boilers running, test their pressure-relief valves monthly, and get them inspected regularly, per state law.
  • Protect fire sprinkler systems.
  • Promptly repair leaky doors, windows, and cracks.
  • Keep at least three feet of clearance around heat-producing equipment.
  • Test backup electricity supplies.

Follow these tips before closing for long periods:

Frozen pipes are the leading property-related risk when the temperature drops. It might seem like a good idea to save money over long weekends and holidays by turning the heat down or off. Unfortunately, most school buildings are decades old and less energy-efficient than their modern counterparts. Age, along with wear and tear, can cause heating loss:

  • Open doors to sink cabinets and other areas that have water pipes to allow warm air to circulate.
  • Insulate exterior pipes and faucets.
  • Don’t neglect concessions and other smaller facilities that have water sources.
  • Avoid letting interior temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit if possible.

Need to let temperatures drop below 50 degrees?

  • Run a trickle of warm water from the taps along exterior walls. Moving water is harder to freeze
  • Install Underwriters Laboratories-approved heat trace tape or thermostatically controlled heat cable along pipes according to manufacturer instructions.
  • Consider shutting off water to the building and draining the pipes, but remember that this could prevent your fire sprinkler system from working. Check with the system manufacturer or installer to be sure.

Practice routine vehicle maintenance

Vehicles need special care in the winter. Cold weather can turn warm air in fuel tanks into water, which can compromise fuel economy and engine performance. Your fleet management program should call for routine maintenance on all vehicles.

Follow these tips during the winter and all year long to keep your vehicles road-ready:

  • Replace worn wiper blades.
  • Never leave a fuel tank less than half-full for longer than a day.
  • Follow manufacturer instructions for the type of oil your vehicles need in the winter.
  • Top off fluids every time the oil is changed.
  • Add passenger vehicle batteries to your routine maintenance and replacement schedules.
  • Remember that most brakes start to wear out within three years. Learn the signs that brakes need to be replaced, such as increased stopping distance, a shaky steering wheel, or a strange noise when you apply the brakes.
  • Regularly test vehicle lights, including turn signals, hazards, and brake lights.
  • Check tires and engine belts for wear.

Transportation directors and fleet managers should discuss hazards that drivers might encounter.  Visit drivetexas.org to monitor road conditions and cancel or change routes as necessary. Protect drivers by stressing the importance of following winter driving safety tips and knowing what to do during an emergency.

Plan for emergencies

Emergency planning can help you avoid headline-grabbing crises, but you should also prepare for seasonal hazards:

  • Conduct regularly scheduled security checks of closed buildings. Extend the checks inside buildings to monitor heat, water, and power issues that could cause emergencies.
  • Provide staff with emergency contacts at the campus, district, and community levels. Publish the list so parents and the community can report emergencies, as well.
  • Make sure key employees are familiar with resources to monitor and communicate weather alerts.
  • Prepare cold-weather kits for staff who respond to emergencies. Kits could include slippery/icy floor signs; gloves, hats, and warming packets; flashlights with fresh batteries; a printed list of emergency contacts; pen and paper for taking notes; and water and snacks to help them through long hours away from home.

Prepare employees who work outdoors

Cold weather can linger long after holiday cheer gives way to back-to-school blues. Some forms of cold stress can set in during relatively mild 60-degree temperatures, especially when combined with moisture. Train employees on your organization’s safety procedures, which should include these guidelines:

  • Monitor wind chill, which combines temperature and wind speed. Wind chill tells you how cold it feels outside. 
  • Wear at least three layers of loose clothing, but avoid cotton. It holds moisture longer than synthetics.
  • Take frequent, short breaks in warm, dry areas.
  • Remember that dehydration is a risk in hot and cold weather. Drink warm beverages, and avoid alcohol and caffeine. They can hinder the body’s ability to produce heat.
  • Schedule outdoor work during the warmest part of the day when possible.
  • Walk like a penguin on slick surfaces: Bend your knees slightly; keep your feet flat; take short, shuffle-like steps; and extend your arms at your sides for balance.

Get more expert guidance

Everyone wants the winter months to go as smooth as ice, but let’s keep the ice outside, where it belongs. If you are Fund member who wants to learn more about protecting your resources, your risk solutions consultant is here to guide you.

We also encourage you to take advantage of these cost-free resources:

About the author

Charles Hueter serves as the Fund's dedicated risk solutions consultant to members in Central and West Texas. He's ready to train your employees, conduct hazard surveys, analyze your losses, and develop tailored service plans that foster safe, productive schools. Reach out to Charles today for school risk management expertise only the Fund can deliver.

Tagged: "weather safety", "workplace safety"