Sense and Sensibility: Winter weather - don't slip up!

Peninsula Team

November 12 2013

If you were to listen all the rumours that go round each winter about the risk of liability from clearing away snow or ice or the risk of liability for not clearing it away you wouldn’t know what to do. Indeed, whenever it snows our 24 Hour Health and Safety Advice Service receive a constant stream of calls asking about those legal responsibilities and potential liabilities for snow and ice clearance. Here, in anticipation of the predicted harsh winter (hope it’s only another rumour!), we are providing the information before the snow falls. As always what you have to do and think about is based on what is reasonably practicable in all the circumstances. Decisions and actions need to be suitable and based on common sense. It is true that Employers have a duty, under the Workplace Health Safety and Welfare Regulations to minimise the risks from snow and ice. But that doesn’t mean that every pathway, every access route has to be cleared. A sensible approach is required. Identify and clear key routes only. 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 or barriers may be necessary. Use grit or salt where appropriate. Think about the issues now and plan ahead. Remember that it always easier to clear freshly fallen snow so think about who might be called upon to move the snow and how they are to do it. Have large plastic snow shovels to hand, they are easier to use and move the snow more quickly than metal shovels. Snow also tend to freeze onto metal shovels making them inefficient and difficult to use. 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 is on the ground. Have you noticed how quickly suppliers sell out and how expensive it becomes when the snow is here? A sensible and reasoned approach is required and where this can be demonstrated liability would be unlikely. Don’t forget, the law also 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. The 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 DirectGov website even includes advice, summarised here, on what to do -
  • 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 well 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. Four times more, 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.
  • 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 to clients who call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.

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