Risk alert: Winter weather poses safety hazards to credit unions

The latest risk alert from CUNA Mutual Group warns credit unions to be aware of safety hazards related to winter weather. Risks can include slippery conditions — both inside and outside branch offices — and the use of portable space heaters, which can introduce serious fire and other safety hazards, according to the alert.

Slips, trips and falls
The alert states that 48% of all workers compensation claims and 55% of the total incurred loss dollars are related to slips, trips and falls. Surprisingly, both volume and severity of credit union slip, trip and fall claims are about 20 basis points higher than the banking industry, according to loss data from The Hartford Claim Report, according to the alert.

Mitigation tips credit unions can consider to minimize slip, trips and falls include:

  • introduce an awareness campaign around slip and fall prevention;
  • create good housekeeping practices;
  • reduce wet or slippery surfaces, parking lots, sidewalks, and floors;
  • avoid creating obstacles in aisles, walkways and stairwells;
  • create and maintain proper lighting both indoors and outside;
  • control individual behavior and minimize distractions;
  • encourage employees to wear proper shoes;
  • develop and implement a slip, trip and fall self-inspection checklist; and
  • consider ice alert signs which turn to a blue color when temperatures are below freezing; these signs are a great reminder regardless of geographic location and tend to be very cost effective.

Space heaters
Space heaters pose significant fire and electric shock hazards if not used properly. Fire and electrical hazards can be caused by space heaters without adequate safety features, space heaters placed near combustibles, space heaters that are improperly plugged in, or even forgetting to power down the unit during off hours.

Safety considerations for portable space heaters include:

  • maintain an approved list of space heaters and features allowed by the credit union;
  • remember that space heaters are for temporary use and should not be used for extended periods, such as overnight; and
  • a policy should outline who is responsible for turning the portable space heater off before closing.

The alert also outlines the specifics that a policy or procedure outlining safe operation of space heaters should include. The space heater should:

  • be placed in plain sight;
  • be kept away from combustible materials;
  • always be turned off when the area being heated is not occupied;
  • be placed on a solid, flat surface at least three feet from anything that may catch fire (but not placed on top of a piece of furniture);
  • be plugged directly into a wall outlet;
  • have a label showing it is listed by a recognized laboratory;
  • have a tip-over sensor;
  • be located out of high traffic areas and doorways where it may be a tripping hazard;
  • always be unplugged and safely stored when not in use;
  • be confirmed it is not against a fire code in your city or state;
  • be inspected for cracked/broken plugs or loose connection before each use; and
  • have automatic shutoff.

CUNA Mutual Group’s risk alerts, in additional to additional risk-prevention resources, may be accessed on their Protection Resource Center. Log-in is required.

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