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November 25, 2014

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Skating on thin ice: preparing for winter weather

This winter, long-range weather forecasters are warning of heavy and persistent snow, freezing gales and sub-zero temperatures in the UK, and early 2015 is showing signs of temperatures hitting ‘record-breaking’ lows, meaning parts of Britain could see temperatures plunge to -27 degrees.

We are fortunate that we do not experience the same regularity of extreme weather conditions as the USA, Canada and parts of Eastern Europe but, in our increasingly unpredictable climate, when harsh weather strikes, public outcry invariably follows as to why the UK cannot manage just a few centimetres of snow.

Following the chaos wrought by the previous extreme winter weather in autumn 2010, the coldest in three decades, the UK government published the first official ‘Snow Code’. Ministers said that ‘they wanted to encourage a more common sense approach to clearing snow and reassure people they are unlikely to be sued if someone slips’. Yet, in Minneapolis, US state legislation declares that it is your legal obligation to clear snow.

There are also strict regulations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Most German towns have a ‘street cleaning statute’. Snow-shovelling requirements are spelled out in detail, even down to the minimum width of the cleared area and the time during which you must keep the snow cleared.

The reactive approach still taken by many organisations in the UK, from schools, hospitals and care homes to factories, retailers and corporates can, however, have massive health and safety and financial implications for those that fail to put a bespoke winter management plan in place.

The cost of people experiencing injuries on business premises in winter, and of related employee ill health, is vast in financial terms. Latest statistics published by HSE reveal that, in 2013/14, over 50 per cent of slips and trips occurred in the autumn/winter months and around half of these resulted in over 7 days’ absence from work.

With an increase in litigation, and ‘slipping on ice’ now one of the top causes of accidents, companies can no longer afford to rely on an ad hoc winter service approach to protect them from heavy financial penalties, loss of reputation, and prolonged down-time.

Yet, one of the most fundamental reasons that the UK does seem to be lagging behind other countries in managing extreme weather is that preparedness costs money. Looking at the short-term cost implications of having a winter maintenance plan in place detracts from the risk of the even greater financial burden and loss of reputation, should a business be found to neglect their duty of care and the health and safety of their employees by failing to tackle winter risks.

Organisations must have a planned approach to their winter maintenance programme with a winter risk management policy embedded in their health and safety policy to give peace of mind that they are doing all they can to keep their staff, residents, students, and visitors safe, and minimise the risk of litigation.

This should involve:

  • a clear process with allocated overall responsibility for overseeing the winter maintenance plan and specific tasks assigned to individuals.
  • continual monitoring of the plan and performance measurement against defined KPIs.
  • a detailed site specification with identified hazardous areas and bespoke clearance and gritting instructions.
  • regularly maintained vehicles and equipment.
  • adequate supplies of clearance equipment, salt and grit bins.

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Victoria Lopez
Victoria Lopez
9 years ago

With predicatably unpredicatable English weather we are never certain of the time that the winter weather will kick in. However, planning
for its guaranteed arrival costs nothing and you can then focus on getting on with business.
With over 15 years experience in providing winter maintenance services the change in the industry and the implementation of
winter services has been marked. It is no longer acceptable to ignore the effects of adverse weather if you are responsible for the
premisis. Winter maintenance planning and solutions like those provided by De-ice and Gritit are effective and affordable.