Thomas Roche, Northern Europe operations vice-president, outlines top five steps against freeze damage

Tom Roche

Negative temperatures and freezing weather are risks businesses often overlook. In the past decade, FM Global saw an annual average of 151 freeze incidents, which culminated in an average estimated gross loss of €129,000.

Thomas Roche, Northern Europe operations vice-president at FM Global, gives his top five tips for preventing freeze damage.

Given the recent reports that 2014 was the warmest year on record, one might think freeze damage is ebbing into the past. The reality is that prolonged periods of freezing weather are a major challenge for business facilities. The facility may not be adequately prepared for a sudden or dramatic lowering of temperature, for example, the insulation of ancillary equipment could be inadequate or a window may be left open or an inspection hatch could expose vulnerable areas to freezing weather. Facilities located in regions that do not typically experience freeze conditions are often the most susceptible to freeze damage.

People readily think of frozen water pipes during times of freezing weather. Inadequate insulation and heating may cause freeze, resulting in broken water piping and water damage or impaired fire protection sprinkler systems and sprinkler leakage. When the latter happens, a fire would be harder to extinguish.

In areas of short-term and moderate freezing, freeze can also interrupt production processes. It is common to see freezing of condensation in instrument air tubing, preventing instrument signals from being transmitted and forcing a process to be stopped.

In extreme cases, the instrument tubing may rupture or the instruments may be damaged, resulting in a longer interruption of business to repair or replace the damaged equipment.

FM Global’s research shows that 26% of the damage suffered in freeze events resulted from escaped liquid. In addition, a further 34% stemmed from leaking fire protection systems that were put in place to protect the property from fire. Such occurrences can have a profound effect on the financial losses that clients suffer owing to freezing weather and are avoidable.

To help businesses remain resilient in freezing conditions, FM Global recommends the following best practice:

1.       plan as if freeze-ups are a certainty, even if your business operations are located in an area where severe temperature drops are uncommon;

2.       be clear in the plan as to what areas will be vulnerable to freeze and the actions to prevent this;

3.       arrange for key facility staff to be available during expected cold spells to monitor weather conditions and patrol buildings in search of cold spots, large leaks or sprinkler piping breaks;

4.       have procedures for maintaining adequate heat, especially if a shutdown of operations becomes necessary; and

5.       consider alternate fuel source for heating and obtaining portable heaters in the event of cold weather emergencies.