8 Ways for Canadian Businesses to Prepare for Winter Storms

Blizzards, ice storms and winter storms of all kinds can wreak havoc with the operations of stores, offices and workplaces. It helps to get ready for the white wintery onslaught we all know is coming.

1. You’ll probably hear or read in the news if a winter storm is coming, but you could also check the public weather alerts from Environment Canada to see if there’s a weather warning, the most serious type of weather alert issued. To keep employees safe, you may need to send people home early.

2. Talk to your employees ahead of time so they know what kind of weather will close the worksite. Ask if staff have concerns about driving in winter weather conditions or will find it hard to get to work. For some businesses, it may help to have employees work from home.

3. Come up with an emergency communications plan (and make sure it’s accessible if the power goes out!). The plan should have contact details for staff and anyone expected to come into the office. Include other handy numbers for emergencies, like for your plumber, electrician, building contractor, landlord and a snow plowing service.

4. Suppliers are another consideration. Make a plan for situations where your office is closed when they’re trying to make a delivery. Can a neighbour accept the package?

5. Stock up on salt, sand and shovels, if you haven’t done so already, and check that the snow blower will start. For employees and customers, place non-slip mats at doorways to prevent a repeat of that time you tried to do the splits after hitting a puddle of melting snow.

6. If your business has a large enough property to use a snow blower or hire a snow plow, figure out ahead of time where the snow piles will go.

7. Depending on your climate and how isolated your location is, some businesses may want to keep an emergency preparedness kit at work in case staff are stranded there overnight. It could be helpful in situations where public transportation shuts down or drivers are told to stay off the roads. Some recommended items include blankets, flashlights and batteries, along with food and water. A carbon monoxide detector is recommended in case someone decides to move the propane barbeque from the patio into the office.

8. One safety concern is that roofs may collapse if the snow is heavy enough. You can determine the maximum snow load capacity of your roof by consulting building blueprints and specifications, local building codes, building inspectors and structural engineers, according to Chubb: “Snow load is measured in pounds per square foot (psf). For example, 10 inches of snow is approximately 5 psf.”

When Computers Freeze

Protecting people is the first priority. But if the heat goes off along with the power, bad things can happen to the computers left behind in your office.

  • Check the owner’s manuals on your computers to determine at what temperature they can safely operate. Two concerns are damage to chips and batteries in temperatures below 0°C.

· If computers or phones do freeze, don’t power them up immediately when the heat comes back on. Let the devices thaw naturally at room temperature. One IT person we consulted said to consider a computer like a frozen turkey that’s allowed to defrost slowly, so the inside has time to thaw as well as the outside: no hair dryers! The big worry is condensation and moisture inside the computer. The computer will need to dry out as well as thaw, which could take hours or days.

· Water damage is a major problem for computers. If you have time to prepare ahead of the storm, protect computers from frozen pipes that can burst and drip water down from the ceiling (maybe with a plastic tarp or umbrella), and elevate devices that sit on the floor.

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