Careful maintenance and risk management can help prevent incidents of property damage or injury during the winter months.  To help you manage the risks and stay safe, we’ve prepared some guidance aimed at protecting your business this winter.

Burst pipes

With winter comes the low temperatures – sometimes for pre-longed periods – that bring an increased risk of escape of water due to frozen pipes.  The cost and inconvenience caused by a burst pipe can be considerable.  Just a small fracture can release hundreds of gallons of water, damaging masonry and plaster, carpets and other contents.

The chance of suffering these losses can be reduced by following a few simple steps:

  • Ensure water pipes are well lagged.
  • Make sure the boiler and heating system is serviced regularly and check that your frost thermostat is working correctly.
  • Make sure you know where to turn off the water supply.

If you discover a frozen pipe, don’t wait for it to burst.  Turn off your water supply and then slowly thaw the affected pipe by introducing gentle heat to the area – for example by using a hairdryer, space heater or hot water bottle.  Never attempt to thaw the pipe with a blow torch or other open flame.

If the worst happens and you do have a burst pipe, turn off the water supply at the stopcock and try to catch any excess water in a bucket or other container.  Do not use any electrics if you believe they may have been affected by the escaping water. You will need to have these checked by a professional electrician before using them again.

Keep gutters, downpipes and drains clear

Autumn brings with it fallen leaves which fill roof gutters.  Those roof gutters have downpipes which only work if they are clear of obstruction.  Inevitably if they are not maintained, blockages will occur and the accumulation of water will eventually cause damage.

Additionally, if there is a blockage in a downpipe, any trapped rainwater may crack or shatter the downpipe if it freezes.

So please remember to add to your list of jobs checking your gutters, downpipes and drains for blockages, so that they can carry water away quickly and efficiently.

If blockages are identified in gutters and downpipes, you should arrange for a local contractor who is able to work safely at height to clear the problem.

Slips and trips

In winter, snow and ice can cause additional slip hazards.  Here are some tips to help protect staff, volunteers and the public when the weather gets cold.

  • Treat paths and walkways with salt or grit before nightfall or early morning before staff, volunteers and visitors arrive.
  • Monitor the condition of the paths regularly, it’s easier to move snow when it’s fresh and loose.
  • Never use water to melt ice and snow as it may refreeze and turn to black ice. Black ice increases the risk of injuries as it is difficult to see and very slippery.
  • When you’re shoveling snow, take care not to block any drains.

Temporary heating

Should your heating system fail during the winter months, the insurers for our Funeral Directors Business Premises Scheme recommend that electric convector or fan-assisted heaters with thermostatic cut-outs (that operate in the event of over-heating) are used as a temporary measure.

Liquid petroleum gas (LPG) heaters give off lots of water vapour which can have an adverse effect on the interior of buildings.  If they are used, cylinders should be kept to a minimum and preferably changed in the open air in a well-ventilated area well away from any source of ignition.

We would strongly recommend that electric radiant heaters are not used, because there is a high risk of setting fire to combustible items in front of the heater, especially within 1 metre of the elements. Paraffin heaters are rarely encountered nowadays and should also be avoided, as they are particularly dangerous if knocked over and present a significant carbon monoxide risk

Portable heaters should be sited well clear of woodwork or other combustible materials, and where possible, protected against the possibility of being knocked over or moved accidentally by the fitting of guards.

Temporary heaters should not be left unattended for long periods, or used when the building is unoccupied.

If your property is unoccupied

Vacant properties are more exposed to risk whether they are empty for a long time, or just over the holidays.  When there is no one to keep an eye on buildings, the risk of theft and vandalism can increase.  Equally, if a pipe does burst it may go unnoticed for a longer period of time and therefore cause more damage.

In order to alleviate risks with vacant property:

  • Keep your property heated to reduce the chance of a pipe freezing.
  • If you are going away for an extended break, drain down and shut off your water system.
  • Arrange for your property to be checked daily.
  • Ensure you have complied with any unoccupancy conditions or warranties listed in your business insurance policy. If you are insured with SEIB and need clarification on this then please get in touch using the contact details below.

About SEIB

SEIB Insurance Brokers are specialists in funeral directors insurance, horse insurance,  and private hire insurance. We are able to provide flexible policies to suit individual client needs and provide advice on what cover is needed. For more information call the team on 01708 850 000.

Funeral directors who have their business premises insured with SEIB can contact us to speak to a risk management expert about preparing your business for winter.  If you don’t have one already, please contact us to request a copy of one of our new risk management guides for funeral directors which are available both in booklet form or PDF format.

Further guidance and resources are also available at: