Laura King outlines seven ways to prepare your business against another Beast from the East.

Weather experts are predicting that the winter of 2019/20 could be even colder than last year — with papers reporting that last year’s Beast from the East will be returning with a vengeance.

Long-term climate scientists from the University of London were behind the headlines. The researchers, led by Mark Saunders, Professor of Climate Prediction, looked at sea temperatures and weather systems over the North Atlantic to make their assessment, which concluded that there was a 57% chance that the central England temperature will be colder than 2018, and that it will be the coldest winter since 2013.

Although the Met Office has been more cautious with its assessment, businesses would be wise to properly prepare for winter regardless of how cold, or snowy, it might be. The cold, icy conditions experienced during the winter of 2018/19 — which led to temperatures plummeting to -14°C in the Cairngorms in Scotland and bringing some cities to a halt — were estimated to have cost the UK economy £1 million for every day of disruption.

Preparing for winter

To prepare for inclement weather, a winter plan should be put together with an associated risk assessment. This should be carried out well in advance, and revisited and revised throughout the cold period.

The winter plan should be based on contingency planning that provides an understanding of what could happen in worst-case scenarios, and how these risks are mitigated and managed. For example, how would the business fare if power supplies went down? How can you make sure that critical data isn’t lost completely and that services can keep running?

To make sure everyone understands what is expected of them, and to ensure the plan is as streamlined as possible, it should be completed alongside other areas of the business — for example HR, IT and the communications team. As part of any planning process, include a review of what happened last year so that new approaches can be adopted where processes were less than ideal.

Some areas that could be addressed as part of winter planning are outlined below.

Communication with employees

Staff need to know what is expected of them when bad weather strikes, as well as what they can expect from the organisation. From an HR point of view, it is important for staff to clearly understand what the consequences are of not being able to attend work, for example due to transport disruption or emergency childcare requirements. On the other side of the coin, facilities managers also need to plan for what happens if, for any reason, staff should not come into work, for example if a building loses power or if the heating system goes down.

Communicating with staff is key in these instances, so make sure that the communication plan is clear, approved, and aligned with communication from other departments. Also ensure that managers are on board and understand what is required.

Preventive maintenance

Bad weather and high winds can expose any building flaws, especially in areas such as roofs or windows. Before winter comes, carry out a condition survey to identify any potential problems, and prioritise them for repair.

Similarly, regularly inspect heating systems and any other plant required for emergencies, such as back-up generators. Proactive maintenance and regular inspections will help reduce the chance of failure when these bits of kit are most needed. Consider setting additional “winter” KPIs to help track and monitor those tasks that need to be given higher priority during this time.

Slips and trips

Snow and ice are two obvious winter problems that can be a hindrance to any business. Make sure that supplies of grit are fully stocked, and that weather warnings are regularly checked so that the grit is used when needed. Staff employed to spread grit need proper personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as a map of where to grit, and priority areas. Keep records of where and when gritting takes place and fully train staff.

Do not forget inside the building too — staff bringing snow and ice in on their shoes can create slippery surfaces, so consider adding extra mats at the front doors to help keep the building clean and to absorb any extra wetness.

Also remember that slips and trips are not just isolated to times when snow falls. Darker mornings and evenings can cause more accidents, as can autumnal leaf fall. As part of maintenance checks, ensure external lighting is adequate and that entrances and pathways are kept clear of leaf litter and debris.

Staff working outdoors

As part of the maintenance team there might be people who are regularly working outdoors. Although minimum working temperatures do not apply for these workers, there is, however, still a duty of care to ensure that people are not working in unsafe conditions. This could mean that managers need to look at rotas to avoid staff working outside in the cold for long periods of time, as well as making sure there are adequate facilities for people to warm up and take a break. Additional PPE to account for the weather can also be appropriate — for example, having extra dry items of clothing and good waterproofs to help people stay warm.

Remote working

Part of the winter preparation might include making sure that people are able to work effectively from home. This might include checking that all staff have the relevant logins and permissions to access work servers remotely.

As some staff might not regularly use these systems, ask everyone to check that they can work remotely ahead of time. This will avoid people trying to flout IT codes of practice and circumnavigate systems by downloading work onto USB sticks, or emailing work to their personal accounts.

Equip fleet vehicles

Make sure fleet vehicles (including grey fleet vehicles) are prepared for wintery conditions. This means making a considered decision as to whether winter tyres are necessary, as well as asking staff to undertake some basic checks on weather and road conditions before deciding to drive. It is also a good idea to put together a car “winter pack”, including a blanket, in-car phone charger and snow shovel. Staff can supplement this with personal items that could include warm clothing and food in case they do break down or are stuck on a motorway.

Managing sickness

Along with bad weather comes the dreaded winter flu. Facilities managers can play an important, if not visible, role in reducing the impact of staff illness spreading, for example by stocking up on soap and alcohol gels. It is also a good time to run a check on cleaning schedules to make sure that common areas are being properly, and thoroughly, cleaned to help reduce the spread of germs.

Furthermore, don’t forget that winter doesn’t always mean catching a cold. For some, it can also bring about the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as well as a propensity for less exercise and a change in diet. Keep this in mind — perhaps renew or re-launch any wellness campaigns, or work with caterers to develop hearty, but healthy, meals for the winter menu.

Summary

In short: plan ahead. Make sure that a winter plan is in place, any maintenance is carried out and that the business is ready should the worst happen. If bad weather does strike, then remember to review how it went afterwards and implement any changes that might be necessary.

Last reviewed 4 November 2019