In response to a viewer request received after the Risk Mgmt LIVE discussion of winter hazards, we have compiled the following recommendations. Although some apply only in northern climates, others are universal. Use this as a guide to ensure you’re doing what’s needed to protect your people and ministry.
Slips and falls
This is the most frequent cause of liability insurance claims for churches in the winter. The question in these cases is whether the church acted in a reasonable manner to mitigate risk. If you fail to take preventative steps and there is an injury, your church could be found negligent.
- Inside, use non-slip rugs and mop up puddles immediately.
- Set out cones or warning signs to mark wet spots.
- Use ice-melt on sidewalks and parking lots, before and during services as needed.
- Even if the church is not found liable for the incident, be aware that your current policy will pay up to your medical payment’s limit for any injuries. These can increase premiums over time. For this reason, consider limiting medical coverage for injuries to $5,000 per incident.
Snow/ice removal from parking lots
- Hire a snow removal contractor for your parking lot.
- Have the contractor provide a certificate of insurance for general liability, auto liability, and workers' compensation liability.
- Ask the contractor to prioritize your church by having them clear the parking lot once the snowfall hits a certain number of inches, especially before services.
Removal of snow/ice by custodial staff
The combination of artery-constricting temperatures and the physical exertion of shoveling snow is a recipe for a heart attack. To keep custodians safe:
- Opt for snow blowers.
- Require proper training and adherence to manufacturers' warnings.
- Have custodians work in pairs.
- Disperse ice-melt/sand as snow is cleared.
Assaults in parking lots
- Because the sun sets early in winter, ensure all parking lots are well lit.
- Designate individuals to escort people to their cars upon request.
Minors sledding/ice skating in parking lot
- Put up warning signs prohibiting the activity.
- Stay aware of such activity to be able to stop it as needed. If someone gets hurt, the church can be held responsible for injuries on its premises.
Dollar for dollar, the largest claim cost during the winter for churches is from frozen pipes that burst.
- Keep the heat on, even if it is only set to 50 or 55 degrees.
- Unhook hoses from outside faucets.
- Insulate all exterior-wall pipes and the building itself.
- Let water drip from pipes in areas vulnerable to freezing.
- While damage from a burst pipe will be covered by insurance, the cost to repair the pipe itself most likely won’t be covered. Make sure you have enough cash reserves for such expenses.
- Check your building more frequently during cold weather because water damage over time can be substantial.
Church employees commonly use space heaters in offices, but they can present a fire hazard.
- Consider disallowing them altogether.
- Adhere to manufacturers’ warnings carefully to minimize potential liability.
- Ensure proper electrical regulatory systems are in place to be able to safely accommodate space heaters.
- Do not allow space heaters around other flammable items such as trash baskets.
- Assign someone to keep tabs on the weather, including during services, using NOAA’s National Weather Service, in order to be able to respond to changing conditions quickly.
- Have a policy for communicating worsening weather conditions to people both before and during services.
- Utilize the church website and social media channels as well as email and local radio and television stations to communicate proactively.
- To prevent roof damage or collapse, hire a contractor to remove accumulated snow. Do not use church custodians or volunteers.
- Have the contractor provide a certificate of insurance for general liability and workers’ compensation insurance.
- Clean gutters and inspect drains routinely.
Colds and flu
- To prevent the spread of infection among young children, have a communicable disease policy and distribute it to parents. For example, some churches ask that a child be kept with a parent rather than in the nursery/children’s area if they’ve had a fever within the last 24 hours.
- Provide hand sanitizer for children’s areas, restrooms, kitchens, and even the foyer.
- Ensure proper cleaning/sanitation measures are maintained throughout the church, especially in children’s areas.
- Thoroughly inspect church-owned vehicles prior to winter and perform all necessary maintenance.
- Implement a policy banning all hand-held cell phone use while operating any church vehicle. Even pastoral staff members and other church employees driving their personal vehicles on church business should refrain because liability can easily roll up to the church in the event of an accident.
- While driving at night, be aware of the risk of hitting a deer. Anyone driving church vehicles, especially with minors, should reduce speed and carefully watch for deer. According to the Insurance Information Institute, if one darts in front of the vehicle, the best thing to do, though counterintuitive, is to stay in your lane. Apply the brakes, but do not swerve.
- Keep an emergency winter kit in all church vehicles containing matches, a flashlight with fresh batteries, snacks, a snow shovel, sand, tow chains, battery cables, a windshield scraper, and a blanket.
For more information about church risk management and insurance, call 866.621.1787 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.