December has been seasonably mild to date, so winter safety tips may not be top of mind for condo managers just yet. But there are some important steps managers should take to prepare for the late season.   Prepared property managers have already begun proactively reducing the risks and impacts to this late, but soon arriving winter weather.    To further enhance your resident safety program, and protect your building operations, we provide the following  five safety tips for preventing, planning for, and responding to common seasonal emergencies. 

  1. Monitor room temperatures

Make routine security checks a part of your condominiums’ emergency management program. Task the security officer conducting patrols in a building with identifying unusually cold rooms.

Examples of the rooms that should be monitored include sprinkler rooms, electrical rooms, generator rooms, fuel storage rooms, and mechanical / electrical rooms and parking garages. This more than often allows property managers to proactively address frozen pipes, false alarms, temperature complaints, and HVAC concerns before they become an emergency.    Further, this proactive initiative will allow you as a property manager, to foresee resident complaints – before they happen.

  1. Patrol the perimeter

Slips, trips and falls are the leading causes of injuries at work in Ontario and the leading injury claim property managers face in 2016. Condo security personnel can have a positive impact on this trend. Direct security personnel conducting routine patrols to include the perimeter of the building, as well as any walkways and access routes to the property.

Have security personnel identify potential concerns, such as icy or wet and slippery surface conditions. Also ensure that security knows what steps to take depending on the findings of these patrols and documents this due diligence.   If its not documented, it typically did not happen.  Quickly detecting and applying salt on a walkway will eliminate a slip, trip and fall hazard. What’s more, it will show that the board of directors and property have an effective safety program in place.

  1. Train building staff

The Ontario Fire Code gives building owners numerous responsibilities, the most important of which is to ensure their building plan is approved by the fire department; most importantly – implemented.    As representatives of building owners, property managers and their supporting staff must be trained to act in the event of an emergency — an often forgotten component of these plans.  Fire Safety Experts offer training sessions, as a component of implementation, and provide certificates of completion that document a property manager and his or her team’s training.

Ensuring building superintendents and on-site security personnel are trained in how to manually start emergency generators, smoke control and exhaust fans emerged as an industry best practice after the 2013 ice storm. These systems are often an integral part of responses to building emergencies, and as such, supervisory staff should know how to use them.  When emergency services arrives at your Condo’s door, they expect a trained, and knowledgeable person to assist them with building specific details.

  1. Hold information sessions

As the holidays arrive, we think of family, and we are reminded of what’s important to us.   Your family of residents expects to be safe in their home.   Residents need to have a basic understand the life safety systems in their building, which are ultimately designed to protect them, and that their decision to evacuate or stay in their suite during a fire alarm is theirs, but the hard fact is that the earlier you leave in a fire, the better the chances you have of surviving.   The fire and evacuation procedures that have been approved for use in your specific building, as they may be different from building to building, are found in your approved Fire Safety Plan.  It’s the property manager’s job to ensure that residents make informed decisions.

Fire and smoke move very quickly, and the conditions in any part of the building may change in an instant. Smoke can spread through a building and enter a suite, even when the fire is many floors away. During an emergency, residents will not have much time to decide what to do, so make sure residents know what to do ahead of time.

Hold a resident information meeting at least once a year, whether it be a fire safety session or a question-and-answer period for concerned residents. Residents need to know the evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures, including the vital role of their property management team during fire alarms.

  1. Ensure holiday safety

Remind residents of the following holiday fire safety tips to ensure buildings are safe and secure this holiday season.

  • Remind residents to never hang holiday decorations from sprinkler heads / pipes, detectors and alarm devices in a manner that would impede their intended use. Always choose decorations that are flame-retardant, non-combustible and non-conductive.
  • Decorative Light Strings Safety. Indoor light strings/sets should not be used outdoors because they lack weatherproof connections. Some outdoor light strings/sets burn too hot for indoors. Inspect light strings/set before use. Check for cracked bulbs and for frayed, broken or exposed wires, and discard if faulty.
  • Holiday Plants & Flowers: Holly and Mistletoe can be fatal to a small child and the smaller the child, the smaller the dose that can cause serious medical problems. Poinsettia leaves are not fatal if swallowed, but still causes concerns. Call 9-1-1 immediately if your children ingest any of these plants.
  • Holiday Trees: These may or not be permitted in your building based on Condo Rules.   Real trees are extremely thirsty. They may drink up to four litres of water per day, so be sure to check daily and supply fresh water as needed. A stand that holds a least four litres of water is recommended. If you allow the water level to drop below the bottom of the tree, a seal will form just as it does on a cut flower and a new cut will be necessary.
  • Never leave burning candles unattended. Snuff them out before leaving the room or going to sleep.  For Condo suites with wood burning fireplaces – Never burn gift wrappings, boxes, cartons, or other types of packing in the fireplace. They burn too rapidly and generate far too much heat.
  • Remind residents of your building emergency procedures, and the importance of having a family Fire Safety Plan. Always include reminders to inspect carbon monoxide and smoke detectors for function — and change the batteries every six months whether they are needed or not!

The above steps can significantly enhance your building operations this winter, and better prepare and equip your teams to effectively, prevent, prepare, mitigate, respond and ultimately recover from emergencies.  The property management industry continues to raise the bar, and professional Condo Managers are better protecting their family of residents, and their homes.    With warmest holiday wishes to you and yours, stay warm this holiday, and be safe.

Jason Reid is a building emergency management specialist & senior advisor to National Life Safety Group. He is also the 2015 chair; Resilient Communities Ontario’s Fire & Emergency Management Committee,  and a past chair; Emergency Management Committee at BOMA Toronto