Every year winter brings with it risks that can affect churches and churchgoers, including storm damage, localised flooding, burst pipes, slips and trips
Each of these pose different challenges and should be taken into account ahead of the winter season.
For example, if your church experiences localised flooding can valuables be quickly moved to a safe location?
Are rainwater gullies and drains maintained? Do you have access to sandbags to divert water away from the property?
Flooding is just one of the challenges facing churches this winter, so to help them prepare, specialist insurer Ecclesiastical’s Risk Management team have put together a quick guide on what to look out for and key steps to take to help prevent them:
Winter storms and flooding affect many churches and their communities every year.
With 1 in 6 properties in England and Wales at risk of being flooded in the future, developing a flood plan is a sensible precaution.
This should consider how to prevent water entering the property in the event of a flood, such as erecting flood barriers, routinely inspecting drains and gullies and keeping them clear and how to respond in the event of flooding, such as moving valuables to a safe location and the use of contractors to carry out safety inspection and repairs to electrics and heating equipment that may have been affected.
Signing up for severe weather warnings at metoffice.gov.uk or keeping up-to-date with the latest weather news can help to anticipate a risk of storm damage and take the necessary steps to minimise damage. Storms often affect trees, increasing the risk of property damage from falling branches. Regular inspection and routine maintenance can help reduce this risk. Where damage is detected you may need to seek further professional advice and guidance.
Lastly, the colder weather can increase the risk of slips and trips on premises. Taking steps to make sure people visiting can safely access the building will help manage the risk and keep visitors safe.
Making sure paths are safe, well lit and installing handrails and are some of the steps that can be taken – as well as sweeping up leaves and removing snow and ice on footpaths when winter weather occurs.
A proactive maintenance programme is more cost effective in the longer term than leaving things to deteriorate to the point of failure and then completing repairs.
When carrying out any maintenance activities it is important to consider any health and safety risks to those completing the work, including volunteers. This could include the safe use of ladders or other maintenance equipment. In particular, make sure that any equipment provided by you is safe and will be used properly.
Failure of heating systems can result in freezing pipework, leading to escape of water, potentially causing major damage. Water can also enter the property through damaged roof coverings and blocked guttering. Routine inspection and maintenance of heating systems, along with roofs and rainwater goods will help reduce these risks.
Many churches were forced to close during the pandemic and consequently maintenance works may have been delayed. Heating systems may have sat idle during the summer so test them now before the cold weather sets in – you don’t want to discover they’re not working when you need them most!
Should the church’s main heating system fail during the winter months, Ecclesiastical recommends using electric convector or fan-assisted heaters with thermostatic cut-outs (that operate in the event of over-heating) as a temporary measure.
Faulty fixed electrical systems can lead to fires, especially in older buildings due to the age of the electrical wiring. They should be periodically inspected and tested by an appropriately accredited electrical contractor and any defective wiring should be brought up to the relevant standard to minimise the risk of fire and major loss of property.
Keeping an up-to-date fire risk assessment for your premises is vitally important. The assessment should identify potential fire risks within your property and the steps you will take to manage those risks. As part of the assessment you should consider ways in which deliberate fires could be started and how you can prevent or reduce the risk of arson.
The longer darker evenings that come with winter can present criminals with opportunities. Incidents such as metal, stone theft and arson often take place overnight. Review your security measures to help reduce the risk of being targeted.
Where churches are left open and unattended consider locking away portable valuable items in a secure area.
To reduce the arson risk secure any items that could be used to start a fire, such as matches, and store petrol used for mowers away from church property.
Introducing electronic security measures, such as intruder and fire alarm systems may be appropriate and will help reduce the risk by raising an alert in the event of a break-in or fire.
A full list of Ecclesiastical’s risk management advice, including a Church Warden’s checklist, is available for customers at their website: www.ecclesiastical.com/risk-management/
Ecclesiastical has also developed a Risk Calendar to support churches to consider some of the risks they may encounter throughout the year.
Jo Whyman, risk management director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “The winter brings with it additional challenges for churches and with extreme weather events becoming more regular it is important that they are prepared for what may happen.
“It isn’t just weather that brings potential risk to churches, the darker nights are often appealing to criminals and those wishing to carry out malicious acts. Our risk guidance identifies steps that can be taken to help deter would be thieves or vandals, and we encourage churches to review their existing security arrangement and how they can make their premises more secure to help prevent this.
“Our Risk Management team are on hand to assist our customers and bespoke guidance and support is available through our Risk Advice Line as well as general guidance available on our website. By following our guidance you can reduce the risks and keep your church and churchgoers safe this winter.”
Ecclesiastical’s Risk Advice line can be reached on 0345 600 7531 with further risk management advice available at www.ecclesiastical.com