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Don’t Slip Up When The Big Freeze Hits

In 2009/2010, we saw heavy snowfall, which brought transport chaos to much of the country. Airports were closed and train services suspended. In December that year, the average UK temperature was just 1C, the coldest since records began. According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), this ‘Big Freeze’ cost the economy between £600 million and £1 billion a day.

Clearly, only time will tell if we are set for similar weather trends this winter. However, with the unpredictable British climate and the increased incidence of extreme weather events, every UK business needs to ask itself the following questions:

  • What happens when the temperature plummets to sub-zero and the severe weather threatens the (safe) running of our business?
  • Are the car parks and pathways safe for staff, customers and visitors?
  • Do we have a reliable winter gritting programme in place to make sure the property and business are as safe as they can be?

Statistics from the Hospital Episode Statistics for England show there were 15,237 admissions to hospital in 2010/11 due to people falling over on snow or ice. How many of these were connected to workplaces is unknown, but the figure in itself indicates the potential consequences if businesses are poorly prepared.

Your Responsibility

The onus is now firmly on businesses to be responsible and to have winter contingency plans in place to prevent against accidents, slips or falls in bad weather conditions. And, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that in today’s ‘compensation culture society’, it is well-known that if you slip on ice in a car park, for example, and sustain an injury, you may be entitled to make a claim against the business in question. An ex-prison officer who can no longer walk after slipping on ice has recently been awarded £500,000.

Retail outlets, offices, hospitals, churches etc. have a duty of care to ensure that premises are kept safe and free from hazards – as far as is reasonably practicable. Failure to take the appropriate actions to reduce the risk of the public slipping and falling could be considered to be a breach in their duty of care, and possible negligence.

If an employee is instructed to grit your premises and they slip and get injured, and it was found that there was a more professional and safe method of salt / grit application, the courts will invariably support the injured person(s). There is now a real need for businesses to demonstrate that reasonable efforts have been made to control possible slip hazards both inside and outside premises.

Cost To You

Whether we like to admit it or not, frost, ice and snow, even if they don’t last long, are predictable features of the British winter. There is a real need to plan ahead before the first ‘unexpected’ snow flurry puts people at risk and causes disruption. Planning ahead of time doesn’t cost anything, but, if needed, it can make the difference between remaining operational and ensuring exposure to slips and trips is minimised.

Failure to safely grit your premises puts you not only at risk of financial liability from claims from employees and visitors but you may also encounter other problems detrimental to the successful running of your business, for example a loss of revenue, targets not being met, a damaged reputation and customers and visitors not being able to enter your premises.

Winter Weather Advice for Businesses

  • Use an expert. By working with a snow and gritting specialist, you can have your winter gritting requirements agreed and ticked well in advance of the beginning of the season. Your supplier can also plan the allocation of resources and ensure you remain safe and open for business whatever the weather.
  • Start early. It’s much easier to clear fresh, loose snow compared to compacted ice that has been compressed by people walking on it.
  • Clear the path. Make a pathway down the middle of the area to be cleared first, so you have a clear surface to walk on.
  • Don’t use hot water. This will melt the snow, but may replace it with black ice, increasing the risk of injury.
  • Keep clear. If shovelling snow, think where you are going to put it so that it doesn’t block people’s paths or drainage channels.

As ever, Brunel Management clients should contact their Health & Safety Consultant with any questions.

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