An unpredictable climate means that businesses aren’t necessarily preparing for winter maintenance in the way they should be – often tackling it in an ad hoc manner. Richard Burroughs, GRITIT, explains the importance of planning and making early preparations for developing new winter maintenance plans and processes.
The UK climate is becoming increasingly unpredictable, and the mild winters of the last two years can make it is easy for businesses to become complacent with winter maintenance plans. We forget the extreme weather we experienced in the winter of 2012/13 where schools, businesses were forced to close and airports and public transport ground to a halt.
This can result in organisations taking an ad hoc approach to winter maintenance. However, this is no longer acceptable from a business confidence, continuity, risk, or health and safety compliance perspective. Statistics from leading insurance and risk professionals QBE reveal that, between 2009 and 20015, there were 617 employer liability claims caused by snow or ice, with £6.9M paid claims and damages paid on 77 per cent of claims.
Many organisations see gritting and snow clearance as a seasonal add-on to the usual day-to-day operations; something that can be carried out by the in-house site management team on a reactive basis, without any additional training. However, a robust winter maintenance plan and a proactive approach to service are essential to demonstrate that the organisation is doing everything it can to meet its Duty of Care to staff, visitors, and anyone passing by the premises, as well as meeting legal and regulatory compliance.
As well as failing to plan, prepare and put robust and timely winter maintenance plans in place, another area where many organisations slip up with winter maintenance is by making the assumption that the processes they already have in place are adequate. It is important to make early preparations; developing new winter maintenance plans and processes, reviewing existing arrangements and policies, and carrying out site surveys, risk assessments and method statements.
This is particularly important where there are complex or multiple sites. Failing to put proper winter maintenance plans in place because it’s too late or because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” could render an accident liability case indefensible and have huge implications for business insurance.
Some larger companies, which historically have spent vast amounts on winter maintenance, are recognising that their processes and procedures are no longer ‘fit for purpose’. When the real cost of the resource is considered and compared, such as vehicles, equipment, fuel, insurances, policies, salt, training, weather forecasting and, importantly, the staff to manage this, this is usually hugely disproportionate to the cost of outsourcing to a specialist winter service provider that would also co-defend and mitigate losses from any claims.
Outsourcing provides a fixed cost, leveling out the peaks and troughs of service, and also reduces capital expenditure: for example a hospital that invests in gritting equipment which is only used for 20 nights of the year and takes up space and cost for the rest of the year. Outsourcing the service saves physical space and reduces the capital outlay, transferring that cost to operational expenditure.
However, organisations need to be careful how they outsource and their partnership with a high quality, trustworthy outsourcing partner. If a window cleaning contractor fails, the result is a dirty window. If the gritting contractor fails, and someone is inured by slipping on ice and snow, which is then found to be the organisation’s fault, this could result in a major financial claim and reputational damage. For example, last year the Ministry of Justice was fined nearly half a million pounds as a result of a claim made by a former prison officer who had slipped on ice and hurt himself due to a lack of gritting. The claim and judgment was not made against the gritting company providing the service, but against the organisation which was responsible for employing and managing them.
A good service provider can support risk, providing a fully-documented audit trail of information which can be used as evidence to support the client in court and ensure that the claim is dismissed. Businesses that are looking to employ a winter maintenance provider should speak to their current and former clients; check their level of accreditation such as ISO etc. Get under the skin of their business.
Organisations must ask themselves: would my current approach to winter maintenance stand up in a court of law? Choose the right provider for whatever level of service they need to meet the Duty of Care and manage risk.
Some top tips for creating a winter maintenance plan are:
- defining roles and responsibilities;
- allocating resources, including a dedicated team and PPE;
- performing detailed, bespoke site surveys which identify potentially hazardous areas;
- assigning a senior ‘champion’ of the plan to ensure buy-in;
- basing the plan around real-time and accurate weather data;
- documenting activity such as planning, service delivery and investigations;
- maintaining records that show the plan has been followed (keeping these for a minimum of three years);
- communicating the plan to everyone, from staff to visitors and the company’s insurer;
- measuring the plan against KPIs and reviewing it on a regular basis; and
- ensuring that the plan is simple, clearly understood, and easily delegated and disseminated.
Organisations should also ensure that the plan is robust through a recognised health and safety management system, such as the OHSAS 18001, and that it is embedded in the culture of the organisation right through all levels of the business.
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