Don’t slip up when it comes to your winter gritting!

04 February 2018 by Matt Trace in General

Don’t slip up when it comes to your winter gritting!

The extraordinarily cold weather blasting the UK is a shockingly effective reminder to all businesses of their responsibility to protect people from the risks of slips and falls in icy conditions. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), around five million days are lost each year through workplace injuries, costing the UK economy billions of pounds. Slips trips and falls account for over a third of employee injuries – making up more than half of all reported major/specified injuries and almost 29 per cent over-seven-day injuries – and more than 50 per cent of such accidents take place during the coldest months of the year. With the current levels of snow and ice, many businesses are currently at the highest level of exposure to such dangers.

Worrying, many businesses may be ill prepared to face these risks: Research by the British Institute for Facilities Management found that almost a quarter of their members said that their organisation doesn’t actually have a winter maintenance plan in place – and of those that do, 26 per cent fail to review it annually. But how prepared do businesses need to be when the bad weather hits? 

Meeting your Duty of Care and avoiding liabilities

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states that an employer has a Duty of Care to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees, including the provision of a safe working environment. This Duty of Care also extends beyond staff to anyone visiting, or passing by the facility, including suppliers on company business and members of the public. 

As a result every organisation must be able to demonstrate that they have done everything reasonably possible to meet their Duty of Care. Any plan has to ensure compliance with all health and safety legislation and that effective steps have been taken to make sites safe for staff and customers during harsh winter weather. 

Clearly, this is more than a administrative matter: Failing to get things right can have a major effect on any individuals that come to harm and also to an organisation’s reputation and its finances. There is also the risk of legal action. Over the past few years there has been an increase in litigation with ‘slipping on ice’ accidents having the potential for the most high value claims and compensation. According to the Hospital Episode Statistics for England, over 7,000 people were treated in hospital after slipping on snow or ice during the harsh winter weather of 2012/13. The less severe winter of 2014/15 still recorded 2919 falls that required a hospital visit.  

A winter maintenance plan

A proactive and fully managed approach to winter maintenance can help businesses prevent accidents and mitigate potential liability claims. Ultimately, this comes down to having a robust winter maintenance plan that is embedded into an organisation’s health and safety policy. By doing so, businesses can meet their Duty of Care, achieve compliance, manage risk, and meet insurers’ expectations. Furthermore, when the bad weather does arrive, acting on the basis of a clear plan can be key to ensuring business continuity. 

Your adverse weather policy should clearly communicate how your organisation will manage/take action in extreme weather situations. Key aspects of any effective plan include:

  • Use of a recognised health and safety management system such as OHSAS1800115 to ensure the plan is fit for purpose.
  • Clearly defined and communicated responsibilities - both on the ground and with a senior ‘champion’ to ensure high level management buy-in.
  • A process for documenting the proactive actions, incidents and investigations undertaken with records maintained and kept for a minimum of three years.
  • Ensuring the plan is based on detailed surveys to identify hazard areas and that action is undertaken according to real time accurate weather data and agreed action triggers for service.
  • Adequate resourcing with either professional contractors or a dedicated trained in-house team, sufficient and well-maintained PPE.
  • Clearly defined KPIs to measure performance against and a process to review the plan and any KPIs on a regular basis (at least bi-annually)

 Don’t leave it late… but if you have, take stock now

A carefully considered winter maintenance plan will be an essential part of your Health & Safety toolkit, ensuring the safety and productivity of everyone on site. Ultimately, the process of developing such a plans should start months ahead of winter. If your organisation is one of the quarter of UK businesses without a plan (and presumably having to responding in an ad hoc manner to current conditions), then now is the time to take stock of the scope of the challenge and evaluate your organisations response. The lessons learned this winter will be invaluable for developing an adequate plan for the future. The is equally true for businesses that have prepared but perhaps not been following best practice to regularly review their planning: Once the pressure is off, take time to review and seek opportunities to improve. 

Can you really afford not to?

One of the most fundamental reasons that the UK seems to be lagging behind other countries in managing extreme weather is that preparedness costs money. However, the short-term costs of effective planning pales into insignificance compared to the financial and reputational risks to an organisation of being found negligent and failing to meet its Duty of Care.

‘* BIFM winter preparedness survey 2015 and ‘Winter Maintenance Best Practice Guide’ in association with GRITIT. Updated edition September 2017.