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24th January 2017

H&S when dealing with winter weather

Slip and trip accidents increase during the autumn and winter seasons for a number of reasons. There is less daylight; leaves fall onto paths and become wet and slippery; and cold weather spells cause ice and snow to build up on paths.

This article highlights some effective actions that employers can take to reduce the risk of slips or trips and subsequent personal injury claims arising. Regardless of the size of your site, always ensure that regularly used walkways are promptly tackled.

Lighting

Is there enough lighting around your workplace for you and your staff to be able to see and avoid hazards that might be on the ground? The easiest way to find this out is to simply ask your staff. Another way is to measure the lux levels with a hand held light meter.

It is important to do this both inside and outside of the workplace, as the effect of light changes during the day. If you can’t see hazards on the ground you will need to improve the lighting (e.g. new/additional lights or simply changing the type of bulb).

Wet and decaying leaves

Fallen leaves that become wet or have started to decay can create slip risks in two ways. They hide any hazard that may be on the path or they themselves create a slip risk.

Put in place a procedure for removing leaves at regular intervals. You might even consider removing the offending bushes or trees altogether if this makes a mess of your car park, for example.

Rain water

In dealing with rainwater:
• When fitting external paved areas ensure that the material used will be slip resistant when wet.
• Discourage people from taking shortcuts over grass or dirt which are likely to become slippery when wet. Consider converting existing shortcuts into graveled/tarmacked paths.
• On new sites, before laying paths, think about how pedestrians are likely to move around the site. Putting the path in the right place from the start may save you money in the long term.
• Regularly check drainage standards on site, check for blocked storm drains, pooling water etc
• Many slip accidents happen at building entrances as people entering the building walk in rainwater. Fitting canopies of a good size over building entrances and in the right position can help to prevent this.
• If a canopy is not a possibility, consider installing large, absorbent mats or even changing the entrance flooring to one which is non-slip.

Ice, frost and snow

To reduce the risk of slips on ice, frost or snow, you need to assess the risk and put in a system to manage it. All occupiers of premises, whether individuals or businesses, have a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of all staff and visitors. This includes the removal of ice and snow from walkways and private car parks. The Health and Safety Executive has recommended such problems should be “promptly tackled”.
• Identify the outdoor areas used by pedestrians most likely to be affected by ice. For example, building entrances; car parks; pedestrian walkways; shortcuts; sloped areas; and areas constantly in the shade or wet.
• Monitor the temperature, as prevention is key.
• Take action whenever freezing temperatures are forecast. Keep up to date by visiting a weather service site such as the Met office or BBC weather.
• Put a procedure in place to prevent an icy surface forming and/or keep pedestrians off the slippery surface;
o Use grit (see below) or similar, on areas prone to be slippery in frosty, icy conditions;
o Divert pedestrians to less slippery walkways and barrier off problem areas such as steep steps and untreated car parks.
• If warning cones are in use, remember to remove them once the hazard has passed or they will eventually be ignored.

Gritting

The most common method used to de-ice floors is gritting as it is relatively cheap, quick to apply and easy to spread. Rock salt is the most commonly used ‘grit’ and it is also the substance used on public roads by the highways authority.

Employers with large external areas to treat may opt to outsource this important task to specialist contractors such as http://www.gritit.com/.

Gritting should be carried out when frost, ice or snow is forecast or when walkways are likely to be damp or wet and the floor temperatures are at, or below freezing. The best times are early in the evening before the frost settles and/or early in the morning before employees arrive.

If you grit when it is raining heavily the salt will be washed away, causing a problem if the rain then turns to snow. Compacted snow, which turns to ice, is difficult to treat effectively with grit. Be aware that ‘dawn frost’ can occur on dry surfaces, when early morning dew forms and freezes on impact with the cold surface. It can be difficult to predict when or where this condition will occur.

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