Winter Weather and Workplace Safety

The cold weather season is upon us!  Let’s not get caught unprepared. 

Historically, Risk Management and Tort Defense Division has spent a lot of money in flood related claims from broken or frozen water lines with the onset of cold weather.  The problem is particularly acute when temperatures drop below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.   Let’s be proactive and not get caught unprepared which causes losses and higher insurance premium costs.

As cold weather season approaches, please remind your facility managers, and building maintenance supervisors and building occupants to implement the following cold weather precautions:

Office / Classroom / Building Awareness

Be aware of your surroundings. During the cold weather season, we are asking you to take extra precautions regarding open doors, windows, storm windows and the possible use of space heaters. Conduct preventative winterizations and pay attention to your office or classroom during and after normal business hours. Routinely assess your facilities and problematic areas that are susceptible to extreme, cold weather.  Look for signs of leakage or flooding and report it right away. Close any windows or external doors.  

One concern is the possibility of pipes freezing and breaking, such as those in building sprinkler system. This is a very disruptive and costly event in a building. Please help us help you!  We realize with the steam heat in some of the buildings it can get very warm at times and if you open a window for temporary cooling, please remember to close it.

If any rooms or offices happen to have window AC units, be sure those have been closed up and winterized appropriately.  Don’t forget to winterize outdoor facets (i.e. rental housing).  Please report any problem doors or windows not closing properly that could get stuck ajar. 

Review building additions or new roof equipment that may increase snow drifting.  Areas where snow drifts are likely to occur include:  intersections of low and high roofs; valleys between two peaked roofs; and intersections of roof and roof-mounted equipment.  Excessive snowdrifts increase the weight applied to roof structures and may cause collapse.

Indoor pipes can freeze, depending on such variables as outside temperature, inside temperature, insulation and placement in the building. Pipes in attics, above ceilings, in crawl spaces and basements, and near exterior walls are highly vulnerable to freezing, especially where there is poor insulation, wall cracks or other openings that allow entry of cold outside air.

If a flood occurs, get your employees out of the immediate area so that they are not injured by electrical or other hazards.  Be sensitive to employees with respiratory issues that may be affected by odors and fumes.

  • Shut the water off – Identify the main water shut-off valve(s) for the building and ensure that key personnel know where they are in case of a pipe break. If a leak or break is found, locate the water source as soon as possible and shut it off to prevent further damage.  Contact Facilities Services and then the Risk Manager in EHRM and we will get a disaster recovery firm to clean-up the water and aggressively dry affected areas before mold begins to form.  To report a loss during normal business hours, please contact the work order desk at ext. 6091.  If a loss occurs after normal business hours please contact UMPD Dispatch at ext. 4000.
  • Mitigate Damages – Move Damaged objects to dry areas and take steps to salvage the property.  Seek the advice of an IT or facility management professional before testing electrical equipment that has been exposed to water so that you don’t damage the equipment or injure yourself.  Just because an object is wet doesn’t mean that it won’t work properly once it is fully dried. 

Please be reminded that if additional staff are needed to monitor the building during a major cold snap after normal business hours  (i.e. 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) we have the option of contacting State Risk Management in advance of the onset of cold weather to obtain loss mitigation expense funding.

Portable Space Heaters

Portable space heaters are a potential source of fire if not used properly. The requirements listed below, applicable code requirements, and manufacturer’s recommendations must be followed to maintain a safe environment.

If a space cannot be adequately heated via the installed building heating system, do the following:

  • Contact UM Facilities Services Work Order Desk to report the condition.
  • If the installed system cannot be repaired in a timely manner, Facilities may recommend a temporary space heater meeting the requirements listed below:
    • All heaters must be Underwriters Listed (UL) or Factory Mutual approved for their intended use.
    • Heaters must have a thermostat to automatically shut down the unit when the desired temperature is achieved.
    • Heaters must have a tip over automatic shut-down feature.Heaters must be kept at least 3 feet (36 inches) from all combustible materials e.g. file cabinets, desks, trash cans, paper boxes, etc.

If you will be using a portable space heater, ensure you follow these safety tips:

  • Do not place heaters under desks or other enclosed areas.
  • Heaters must be monitored when in operation.
  • Plug heater directly into a wall receptacle. Never plug it into an extension cord.
  • Heaters need to be monitored daily. Those heaters missing guards, control knobs, feet, etc. must be taken out of service immediately and repaired by a competent person.
  • Do not use heaters in rooms that will not be continually occupied.
  • Keep doors and windows closed, including storm windows. This will help prevent freeze-ups.
  • Keep space heaters away from exit ways, walkways and paths of travel.
  • Do not use space heaters in wet areas like bathrooms or kitchens.
  • Do not use portable space heaters if small children are expected in the area.
  • No open-coil space heaters are permitted in any university buildings.
  • Space heaters of any type are prohibited in laboratories.

No open coil space heaters are permitted in any university buildings.

Safety First, Safety Always

During the winter months, slips, trips, and falls represent a majority of incidents occurring both inside and outside of buildings. By taking the proper safety precautions, we can all work together to avoid injuries and illnesses associated with the hazards of winter.

Certainly, with the cold weather, comes the snow and ice on the roads, sidewalks, and parking lots.  Please use care and caution when walking and driving anywhere on campus and keep in mind the ‘black ice" that is prevalent this time of year, may not be readily visible, but it could still be there.  Leave a little earlier than usual to allow yourself more time to get to safely your destination.

Along with leaving a little earlier, take the time to warm up your vehicle and thoroughly clean off your windows of any snow and ice for proper visibility.  It is not only unsafe to operate your vehicle while looking through a small hole scraped in your windshield, but could also constitute a violation of State Law regarding vision obstructions of the windows.  This certainly presents a real hazard to you, other motorists, and pedestrian traffic.

Should you observe a specific area in need of immediate attention due to slick and hazardous conditions, i.e. driveways, sidewalks, parking lots, or campus roadways, please contact Facilities Services work order desk (ext. 6091) immediately, so we can advise Grounds of the condition.