Here in Louisiana, the winter months can be unpredictable. When the temperature dips low and the humidity soars, winter weather creates ground conditions that may be unsafe for employees. It is vital for employers to address unsafe grounds- including parking lots, parking garages, grassy areas and entryways- immediately in order to avoid employee injury.
Employees are frequently injured before clocking in or while leaving after a completed shift as a result of unsafe grounds. While an employer may question whether the incident is, in fact, a work-related injury, present case law and court opinion typically consider it so. Factors taken into consideration include:
- If an employee is injured while on the employers’ property, regardless of being on or off the clock.
- Where the incident took place, such as parking lots, grassy areas and even entryways owned and maintained by the employer.
To illustrate how this may occur, examine this claims scenario:
An employee of a healthcare facility arrives safely to begin their shift in rainy conditions, coupled with icy temperatures. They park their vehicle in a lot designated for employees that is maintained by their employer. The employee has not yet “clocked in.” Upon exiting their vehicle, the employee steps onto a frozen patch of pavement, slips, falls and suffers an injury to the right knee.
The courts have considered if the injured worker is “furthering the business of the employer” to the outreaches of a parking lot, regardless of whether the employee is being paid wages at the time. While the employee clearly is not “on the clock,” this is an incident the courts would deem a compensable work injury.
Weather factors double the risk of an employee suffering an injury in parking lots, parking garages or grassy areas. Wet, icy or even mild conditions are not within the control of risk prevention. However, steps can be taken to assure a safe environment when inclement weather conditions have been predicted or anticipated.
Conducting regular inspections of parking and grass areas can identify hazards that can be corrected to reduce the risk of employee injury. Frequently inspect these items:
- Ensure all lights are functioning and provide enough illumination.
- Make sure lighting is not blocked by overgrown tree branches.
- Note broken concrete or potholes that could fill with water and present a trip hazard.
- Look for loose rocks or gravel from deteriorating asphalt or concrete.
- Check uneven surfaces and gaps in sidewalks.
- Observe changes in elevation that may require contrasting paint to clearly identify.
- Look for broken curbs.
- Inspect grass areas for divots and low spots.
- Create a clear path for employees to walk from a vehicle to the entrance of the facility.
- Make sure that mats placed at the employee entrance are in good condition, properly sized and can remove moisture and debris from footwear.
- Develop a messaging system to alert employees of inclement weather conditions such as ice and snow.
These steps, if followed, can help prevent injuries to employees when moving from their vehicle to the facility entrance.
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