The science of predicting snowstorms has grown increasingly accurate. Still, meteorologists sometimes get it wrong, warning of "snowmageddons" that never materialize, but whose threatened arrival cause businesses—and even entire cities—to shutter needlessly. So what’s an employer to do when snow is in the forecast?
There are times when winter weather will impact the normal course of business. With a bit of preparation and forethought, however, you can weather the storm safely and minimize disruption to your operations. Start by identifying your priorities. Your goals are to keep your customers, employees, and property safe, while remaining as productive as possible.
Putting Safety First
First and foremost, exercise your best judgment, and encourage your employees to do the same. Ask employees to report only if conditions are safe enough for them to travel to and from the worksite, keeping in mind the weather forecast for your area. Employees who can make it work early in the day may not be able to travel home safely once there, as the storm progresses. And be as flexible as possible with employees who live far away or in remote areas, where travel may be, or become, more hazardous.
In extreme conditions, you might decide to close your business—based on your own assessment of danger, or when state or local authorities ask people to stay off roadways. In this circumstance, it's best to send everyone home, with the possible exception of a pre-determined skeleton crew to man your operations, if the nature of your work makes this absolutely necessary.
Working from Home
To minimize loss of productivity when a big snowstorm is forecast for your area, take steps ahead of time to allow employees to work from home effectively. For instance, before the storm hits, ask workers to make sure they have home access to digital or hard copies of current project files, reminding everyone of your policies for safeguarding the confidentiality and security of company information. Also, check to make sure that employees know how to access remote network connections. Schedule telephone or video conferences so your team can convene while working from home, as long as power and telephone lines remain operational.
If your employees must drive in snow and ice as part of their jobs, promote safety by providing training for driving in these conditions. In addition, all vehicles should be properly maintained and equipped with an emergency road kit.
Communication is Key
Winter storm pay policies and work options should be outlined as part of an overall inclement weather policy, which should also include information on how employees will be notified of closures. This plan should be provided to all employees, and carried out consistently.
Other considerations on a departmental and managerial level include communicating closures to local media outlets or otherwise informing customers or the public, and forwarding phones or arranging for coverage.
Safe Snow Removal
Now let’s move on to maintaining your property during winter storms, to keep everyone on the property safe, to help your business function smoothly, and to minimize the risk of liability. Be sure to clear snow and spread de-icer as quickly as possible after a winter storm in areas where people walk, drive, or park, bearing in mind that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that walking surfaces be kept free of hazards such as spills, snow, and ice.
Make sure that employees responsible for shoveling, plowing, or de-icing are provided with:
- Proper safety and snow-removal technique training,
- The tools and footwear necessary to protect them from injuries and the elements, and
- Access to frequent warm-up breaks.
Also, have worksite buildings periodically inspected for damage, and have flat roofs cleared of snow and ice as soon as it can safely be done, to prevent collapse.