Avoid Slips and Falls This Winter

Central North Carolina may face wetter-than-usual weather this winter

A stairway is roped off to Duke community members for their safety. During severe weather, faculty and staff are asked to only use walkways cleared at a high priority. Photo courtesy of Facilities Management.
A stairway is roped off to Duke community members for their safety. During severe weather, faculty and staff are asked to only use walkways cleared at a high priority. Photo courtesy of Facilities Management.

Last February, as snow blanketed campus, covering parking lots, sidewalks and stairs, Facilities Management staff fanned out to clear priority pathways for students and employees. 

Some walkways were blocked off, with barriers stating “STAIRS CLOSED” in big letters to prevent Duke community members from traversing hazardous areas. It was with good reason.

From Nov. 19, 2014 to March 6, 2015, faculty and staff reported 86 injuries related to winter weather, and over the past two years, most winter weather-related injuries have occurred on areas not prioritized for clearing on campus.

“We encourage Duke community members to get out of their same routines and adapt to the circumstances,” said Chip Kyles, director of Workers’ Compensation. “We allow extra time to drive to work, but we should also plan extra to find cleared walking routes and pay attention to what kind of footwear we wear.”

With the first day of winter on Dec. 21, staff and faculty are encouraged to review Duke’s severe weather policy to prepare for potential ice and snow this season and to ensure roles and responsibilities are understood.

This season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports Central North Carolina may face wetter-than-usual weather due to the strongest El Nino pattern on record.

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This map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows North Carolina can expect wet weather this winter. 

“While temperature and precipitation impacts associated with El Niño are favored, El Niño is not the only player,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “Cold-air outbreaks and snow storms will likely occur at times this winter. However, the frequency, number and intensity of these events cannot be predicted on a seasonal timescale.”

January and February are historically the busiest months for snowfall in North Carolina, with two-to-three inches coming in each of those months. To help avoid slips and falls, Kyles recommended faculty and staff can use removable ice cleats known as crampons.

Kyle Cavanaugh, Duke’s emergency coordinator and vice president for administration, noted the importance of faculty and staff communicating with supervisors to know if they’re needed to be on campus during instances of severe weather.

“That way, we can ensure all members of our Duke community stay safe while Duke continues to operate smoothly in the event of ice or snow,” he said.

Officials urge Duke community members to follow the campus snow and ice removal plan, which shows priority sidewalks and building entrances. Areas to avoid are sloped surfaces, stairs, ramps and paths not identified as preferred routes, according to the plan. A map of priority areas to be cleared is available online

Updates to Duke's snow and ice plan this year continue to reflect ongoing construction and renovations across campus. Ongoing work may create some inconveniences as Facilities Management staff focus on primary walkways and roads, and pedestrians and motorists should use care on and around campus at all times. 

In the snow and ice removal plan, areas across Duke are sectioned into 15 precincts with parking lots, sidewalks and building entrances cleared according to priority. Priority generally starts with Duke-owned roads, followed by some parking lots and garages, bus stops, pedestrian pathways and building entrances. 

During severe weather, the University and Health System share responsibilities in providing removal by clearing priority areas first but not all areas can be cleared at once. With 48 miles of sidewalks at Duke, crews focus on main campus (West, Central and East) and Duke-owned off campus properties.

For a moveable snowfall of about three inches, it will take crews four to six hours after precipitation ends to clear priority sidewalks and roadways. For bigger storms, clearing priority areas could take eight or more hours.

More information about Duke’s severe weather policy, including a snow/ice priority-clearing map, is at emergency.duke.edu. In the event of severe weather, employees should monitor the website or call (919) 684-INFO for updates.