Cold, ice, and snow can pose big risks to small businesses. It’s smart to prepare ahead of time to keep your small business out of the cold.

One way in which cold weather can hurt your business is by causing serious property damage. In fact, 15% of all small business property and liability claims result from water and freezing damage, according to claims data from The Hartford. Winter also can threaten your business with increased liability risks — for example, if a customer or delivery person gets hit by a falling icicle or trips on a slippery walkway.

You can protect your small business by making sure you’re properly covered with the right business insurance and by learning about the various ways cold weather can cause problems for your company, as well as how to prepare ahead of time to avoid or minimize the damage. Here are four ways winter can wreak havoc on your small business.

1. Water Damage Caused by Frozen Pipes

When temperatures dip, water can freeze in your plumbing, causing pipes to burst and resulting in hundreds or thousands of dollars in water damage. Frozen pipes that burst can damage your floors, walls, and other structural elements.

This type of disaster is more likely to happen when you and your employees are away for an extended period, such as over the December holidays. Fortunately, you can take simple preventative measures to help keep your pipes from freezing, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. For example:

Seal your workplace. Hire a qualified contractor to caulk or otherwise repair cracks or holes in the exterior of your building that could allow cold air inside. Make sure your building is properly insulated and cover any pipes at risk of freezing.

Keep the temperature consistent. Set the thermostat to maintain an even temperature inside your business at night and over weekends and holidays. Consider installing a monitoring system to alert you if the temperature falls below a designated number.

Prevent pressure buildup in pipes. Keep an eye on weather forecasts. When winter storms or extreme cold are predicted, leave the faucets in your building slightly open so they drip steadily to help prevent freezing.

Obtain back-up power. Install a generator or other source of power that can keep your building warm in case of a power outage caused by a winter storm.

Taking these easy steps can greatly reduce your risk of a frozen pipe disaster.

2. Collapse of a Roof Due to Heavy Snow

If a snowstorm dumps too much snow in your area, the sheer weight of the white stuff can cause your roof to cave. In fact, every foot of snow on a roof exerts between five and 50 pounds of pressure per square foot, depending on the density of the snow, according to Summit Engineering, a construction administration and inspection company in New Hampshire.

Find a licensed, bonded, insured roofer or general contractor you can call to safely remove snow from your roof. Never let two or more feet of snow accumulate on top of your building without calling in the pros for removal.

3. Slip-And-Fall Accidents Due to Icy Walkways

Slip-and-fall accidents can be costly and even lead to lawsuits.

If a customer or visitor falls, the incident would be covered under the liability coverage of your business insurance. In fact, slip-and-falls account for about 10% of business insurance claims, according to claims numbers from The Hartford.

If an employee slips and falls, that would be covered by separate workers’ compensation insurance. That’s why it’s important to make sure you have both types of coverage.

To reduce the risk of slips, put a winter weather plan in place to handle winter weather hazards quickly. Create a written plan that includes:

Promptly removing snow from walkways and in parking lots

Sprinkling salt on icy spots outdoors

Putting mats with non-skid backing at the entrances to your building

Checking floors regularly and quickly mopping up any puddles caused by melting snow falling off boots or shoes

Using “wet floor” signs if necessary

And, finally, keep a safety log with records of the times and dates you perform these safety measures.

4. Winter Storms That Bring Business to a Halt

Winter storms that delivers significant amounts of snow of snow may force your business to shut down for days or weeks. For example, New Jersey business owner Allison Dorst, who sells sportswear online, could not operate her business for a week after a snowstorm caused a power outage. Fortunately, she had business insurance and received a check for $10,000 from her insurance company to cover her losses and the cost of moving her inventory so that it wouldn’t be harmed by melting snow seeping into her basement.

It’s also important to get a policy with business income insurance, which can replace income lost when a covered your costs until our business is up and running.

If your business does get hit with a loss due to winter weather, you can turn to your business insurance. If you incur any property damage, let your insurer know as quickly as possible so they can work with you to get the necessary repairs made quickly, to prevent additional damage from water, snow, or ice. Also notify your insurer promptly of any liability issues, such as a slip-and-fall incident.

Taking these steps can help you weather the risks of winter and help protect your business from even the worst storm.

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