Evaluating the risks of not gritting – can you afford to ‘slip up’ this winter?
Vicky Lopez, director of De-Ice
With reports of the strongest El Niño, (warmer than average waters in the Eastern equatorial Pacific, which affects weather around the world) for 65 years already grabbing the headlines, we look set to have some very unsettled weather ahead.
During the last El Nino (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?
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 a £500,000 payout.
Retail outlets, offices, hospitals 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.
The HSE’s Approved Code of Practice for the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations explicitly refers to snowy and icy conditions, noting that ‘dutyholders need to minimise the risks from snow and ice’. This might include ‘gritting, snow clearing and closing off some routes, particularly outside stairs, ladders and walkways on the roof’.
Statistics from the Hospital Episode Statistics for England in 2009/10 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.
With this in mind, we often question why certain sectors leave winter planning to the last minute, or not at all. Can any industry really afford not to adequately provide for the safety of their staff, customers and visitors? The potential cost of failing to do is vast – they will – eventually – ‘slip up’.
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. To protect those audiences highlighted, 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.
Failing to safely grit your premises puts you not only at risk of financial liability from claims from both 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.
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. Although organisations cannot be expected to control ice and snow, they can seek ways to manage the risk and ensure that they stay safe and open for business.
Vicky Lopez is co-founder and commercial director of De-Ice – one of the UK’s longest-established winter gritting and snow clearance specialists. De-Ice always carries out a full audit trail to provide evidence that a site has been properly serviced. De-Ice can help prepare for, and respond to, extreme weather by implementing an effective and efficient winter maintenance plan – leaving you to get on with running your business.