Whenever it snows our 24 Hour Health and Safety Advice Service receives a constant stream of calls asking about the legal responsibilities and liabilities for snow and ice clearance. Here, in anticipation of the predicted harsh winter, we are providing the information before the snow falls.
Employers have a duty, under the Workplace Health Safety and Welfare regulations to minimise the risks from snow and ice. That doesn’t mean that every pathway has to be cleared. A sensible approach is required. Identify and clear key routes. A reasonable decision might be to close a main entrance and use instead a side entrance the path to which is easier, and may be shorter, to clear for the duration of the bad weather. Close routes that are not required and make everyone aware of these ‘winter arrangements’. Temporary direction signs may be necessary. Use grit or salt where appropriate. 

It is prudent to have a supply of rock salt or winter grit available for use when needed. It really is too late to leave ordering it until the snow has arrived. Have you noticed how quickly suppliers sell out and how expensive it becomes when the snow is with us?

A sensible and reasoned approach is required and where this can be demonstrated liability would be unlikely. Don’t forget, the law expects people to be aware of the risks associated with ice and snow and to take extra care for their own safety.

Government advice on rights and responsibilities when clearing ice and snow from public areas explains that people should not be put off helping to keep pavements and public spaces clear of snow for fear of being sued. It clearly states that people using areas affected by snow and ice have a responsibility to be careful themselves. There is no law stopping you from clearing snow and ice on the pavement outside your property, pathways to your property or public spaces. Government advice confirms that if an accident did happen it’s highly unlikely that you would be sued as long as you were careful and had used common sense to make sure that you didn’t make the pavement or pathway clearly more dangerous than before.

In fact the Government encourages the concept of individuals helping to clear snow and ice for the common good. The advice is summarised here –
• always start early – it’s much easier to clear fresh, loose snow compared to compacted ice that has been compressed by people walking on it;
• don’t use hot water – although this will melt the snow, it may replace it with black ice, increasing the risk of injury;
• be a good neighbour – some people may be unable to clear snow and ice on paths from their property;
• when shovelling snow, think about where you are going to put it so that you don’t block people’s paths or drainage channels;
• make a pathway down the middle of the area to be cleared first, so you have a clear surface to walk on;
• spread some salt on the area you have cleared, it will help stop ice forming – table salt or dishwasher salt will work, but avoid spreading it on plants or grass which salt may damage;
• remember salt does not work at temperatures below -9oC and relies on traffic movements to make it effective. 8 to 10gm per square metre is the normal rate of application when snow and ice is expected, but 40gm per square metre is required to clear a build up of snow or ice:
• pay particular care and attention to steps and steep pathways – they may require more salt than other places;
• use the sun to your advantage – removing the top layer of snow will allow the sun to melt any ice beneath; however you will need to cover the melted path with salt to stop it refreezing overnight; and
• if there is no salt available, you can also use sand or ash. They don’t work as well as salt, they won’t stop the path icing over, but will help provide good grip under foot.

Remember further specific advice and information is always available; just call our 24 Hour Advice Service on
0844 892 2772.