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The holidays are considered to be the golden window of opportunity for small businesses, the time when sales soar and customers flock to retail stores to take advantage of the festive cheer and the bargains. You may have spent months preparing for this time, pumping up your inventory and hiring extra staff to handle the overflow. However, there is one aspect of this time of year that you may have overlooked: the potential for accidents, slips and falls and other hazards. Don’t leave yourself vulnerable to added stress and possibly even nasty litigation.

In the case of holiday-related injuries, you particularly want to ensure that your liability and workers’ compensation coverage is up-to-date. If the holiday festivities can also be considered “performing the duties of employment,” your workers’ compensation coverage may be the vehicle you will use to pay for the costs associated with the accident or injury. If you are unsure about what types of business insurance you currently have or are in need of, contact your agent or insurance broker, who will be glad to describe your coverage and help you fill in any gaps. As an added precaution, it’s best to be aware of the potential risks and take preemptive action before they occur.

Train Your Employees

Did you know that an estimated one in four new employees get injured during their first year on the job? At a time of year when space is at a premium, merchandise may be disorganized and there are more than the usual number of harried customers, you need to carefully train your new hires in advance. Ensure that they are well acquainted with your retail space and procedures. Show them how to lift heavy items properly to reduce the risk of back injuries. As an added precaution, pay attention to how fully-stocked your shelves are becoming. Overloaded displays can lead to an avalanche of items succumbing to the power of gravity, often at the worst possible time.

Decorate With Safety in Mind

When planning what to do about your holiday decorations, consider using less flammable items. Keep tinsel, paper decorations and wreaths to a minimum. Although there is nothing more beautiful than a flickering candle, the battery-operated ones are much safer. When plugging in decorative lights, avoid stringing extension cords together, and keep them away from well-traveled pathways where they could become a tripping hazard. Before you string your lights, keep these safety procedures in mind.

  • Inspect your lights. Be particularly aware of frayed wires, gaps in the insulation over the wiring, broken sockets and excessive wear. If a string is kinked after storage, trash it.
  • Never string together more than three strands of lights unless the directions specifically tell you it is safe to do so.
  • Throughout the season, check the wires for excessive heat. They should never be warm.

Safe and Festive Live Trees

If you want to put a beautiful live tree in your workspace, there are some things you can do to lessen the possibility of fire:

  • Be sure your tree is set up far from heat sources such as fireplaces and hot air vents.
  • Take it upon yourself to regularly check the water pan under the tree. Keeping it filled will prevent the tree from drying out. If you’re too busy to remember this important task, delegate it to a responsible employee.
  • Don’t keep the tree up for more than two weeks. If your tree is artificial, check to be sure it is flame-retardant.

Make Holiday Food That Doesn’t Bite Back

The last thing you want is for food-borne illnesses to put a damper on your celebrations or to permanently banish your customers. Follow these suggestions to ensure that bacteria is not on your guest list:

  • Keep your eating surfaces and any prepared foods well away from eggs, seafood, raw meat and poultry. This will prevent cross-contamination.
  • Be sure to cook food properly and at the recommended temperature.
  • Don’t leave foods out for too long; refrigerate immediately after people stop eating. A rule of thumb to remember is not to leave perishable items out for more than two hours.

Drink Responsibly

If you are planning to serve alcohol at a business holiday party, plan ahead by following these guidelines:

  • Don’t pressure anyone into consuming alcohol and carefully watch to ensure that none of your employees do either.
  • Hire a professional bartender, and make it clear that no one who appears intoxicated should be served any more drinks.
  • Make sure your food is filling and delicious. This will encourage people to eat and will lessen the possibility that partygoers will be drinking on empty stomachs.
  • Monitor guests as they leave the party to be sure they have alternate transportation. Be prepared to help them get cabs or call designated drivers.

Be Sure Your Insurance is in Order

Taking heed of these precautions can go far in protecting you against hazards and accidents. However, mishaps can occur even in the safest environments. For that reason, it is vital that your insurance is comprehensive and up-to-date. There are several types of commercial insurance, including property, liability and workers’ compensation. In general, property insurance protects you if there is any damage to your property, including natural disasters, fires and theft. Liability insurance covers you in the case of injury to third parties, including customers, delivery personnel and other visitors to your business. This insurance also pays the costs incurred if the third party takes you to court. Workers’ compensation protects you and your employees in the event of on-the-job injuries or work-related illnesses.

December can be a fun and extremely busy time for all of us, particularly for entrepreneurs. Taking some time to prepare for all contingencies can keep your stress level manageable. In addition, your forethought can help to ensure happy and safe customers and employees throughout this lucrative season.