True grit in the face of worsening weather

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In winter conditions, employers should ensure proper procedures and safeguards are in place to protect employees and others using their premises from the risks associated with adverse weather conditions. In this article, Gordon Tranter considers the particular risks of slips, trips and falls caused by snow and ice.

The risks

Employers need to assess the likely risks posed by bad weather in the same way as other workplace risks, and implement appropriate systems and controls. The assessments need to include the risks:

  • of slips, trips and falls and caused by snow, ice and wet weather

  • from winter driving

  • from health effects faced by workers in cold indoor or outdoor conditions.

L24 Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Approved Code of Practice and Guidance states that: “Arrangements should be made to minimise risks from snow and ice. This may involve gritting, snow clearing and closure of some routes, particularly outside stairs, ladders and walkways on roofs.”

Prioritise

The plan for icy and/or snowy conditions should identify the areas where hazardous icy condition may occur and prioritise the actions to taken. The outdoor areas used by pedestrians that are most likely to be affected by ice should be identified, using the historical incidence of ice and snow if available.

Areas that should be considered include:

  • building entrances and exits, particularly all fire emergency exits and the paths from them

  • car parks

  • paths and walkways

  • regular short cuts

  • sloped areas

  • areas which are in shade for long periods

  • steps.

It may not be reasonable to remove all of the snow and ice, or to grit all the areas identified.

This will mean prioritising which footpaths and areas are to be cleared and/or gritted. Priority should be given to entries and exits, particularly emergency exits, external steps and the main walkways leading to and from the car park to the workplace. Consideration should be given to those areas that are not treated and whether they are likely to become hazardous and should be closed. Temporary cessation of activities that put persons at increased risk should also be considered. In addition, the options for homeworking or alternative working hours should be considered.

A similar risk assessment should be made for the risk from ice and snow on-site traffic routes and to decide what arrangements are required.

Monitor the temperature

The unpredictability of the weather adds a considerable element of uncertainty that requires being prepared. Throughout the winter, the temperature should be monitored, for instance by visiting a weather service site such as the Met Office or the Highways Agency. Whenever freezing temperatures are forecast, the procedures to prevent an icy surface forming and/or keep pedestrians off the slippery surface should be put into action. These procedures include using grit or similar on areas liable to become slippery in icy conditions, covering walkways, for example by using an insulating material on smaller areas overnight, and/or using an insulating material on smaller areas overnight.

Gritting and snow clearance

Gritting is usually carried out using rock salt, which can stop ice forming and cause existing ice or snow to melt. It should be carried out when frost, ice or snow is forecast or when the ground temperatures are at, or below freezing and are likely to be damp or wet. Rock salt is best applied early in the evening before the frost settles and/or early in the morning before employees arrive. There should be regular recorded monitoring to determine that the controls are being effective.

When there has been a heavy snow fall snow clearance may be necessary to ensure a clear and safe path for pedestrians and on-site traffic. The personnel carrying out should have the appropriate manual handling training and wear warm clothes, gloves and sturdy footwear. Steps should be taken to ensure fire hydrant markers are not covered with snow.

The arrangements for gritting and snow clearance should include ensuring there are stocks of grit/salt and shovels in place before the cold weather sets in and clearance personnel are instructed in how and when to implement the plan.

Vulnerable persons

The employer’s risk assessment for ice and snow should include a consideration of whether steps have to be taken to protect vulnerable groups, such as disabled people, the elderly, or new and expectant mothers.

Public areas

There has been considerable concern that that, by clearing snow or salting in public areas, people are likely to be sued for falls. Consequently, the Government has issued a Snow Code, which states:

“You can clear snow and ice from pavements yourself. It’s unlikely that you’ll be sued or held responsible if someone is injured on a path or pavement if you’ve cleared it carefully.”

RoSPA recommends that anyone clearing public pavements should:

  • not make conditions worse, for instance by pouring boiling water over the pavement and walking away, leaving a sheer icy surface to develop

  • do a good job, and keep on top of the job by reacting to changing conditions. In most cases, the area will need tackling more than once.

Peripatetic workers

Employers do not only have to protect persons on their site. They need to consider the risks to peripatetic employees who may be at particular risk of winter slips and trips. Such workers include postal staff, utilities, highways and emergency workers, parking attendants, care workers and community nurses who visit clients in their homes, many of whom will have to visit flats and houses where the footpaths have not been treated.

In such situations, employees should be given training on how to cope with snow and ice, including advice on how to:

  • wear sturdy, flat shoes with good slip protection; to avoid boots or shoes with smooth soles and heels, but to wear shoes or boots that provide traction on snow and ice; or to suggest wearing shoe grips, which simply fit over existing shoes, effectively turning them into snow shoes

  • take short steps and walk at a slower pace so that they can react quickly to a change in traction, when walking on an icy or snow-covered footpath.

Kennedy v Cordia (Services) LLP

A recent case in Scotland, Kennedy v Cordia (Services) LLP, made a decision that could have had substantial financial implications for employers. The Court ruled in favour of a care worker who had slipped on snow and ice when attending at the home of an elderly patient. She claimed her employer should have provided her with crampon style add-ons to give better grip in icy or snowy conditions, instructed her on how to use them and ensured that she used them.

However, this decision was overturned on appeal. The appeal ruled that the Personal Protective Regulations 2002 deal with risks that arise specifically from work, rather than the same risk that any other member of the public is exposed to, for example walking on a snowy path. People who work do not lose their identity as members of the public simply because they are in the course of their employment.

Last reviewed 5 October 2015