Are you unsure of where your responsibilities lie with regard to clearing snow and ice from your carpark, paths, yards, roadways and boundaries? Can you be blamed if an employee or customer slips on snow or ice in your business?
To answer these common questions we refer to the guidance in the Workplace, (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations which states: “So far as is reasonably practicable, every floor in a workplace and the surface of every traffic route in a workplace shall be kept free from obstructions and from any article or substance which may cause a person to slip, trip or fall.” It goes on to specify: “arrangements should be made to minimise risks from snow or ice which may involve gritting, snow clearing and closure of some routes, particularly outside stairs, ladders, and walkways on roofs.”
You have a duty of care to anyone on your premises to provide an environment free from a risk of slipping. There is no exception for snowfall or icy conditions. As such an assessment of your site should be undertaken to determine what routes will take priority.
The priority will be to clear ice/snow and apply salt/grit to the main access routes to and around the site. You will also need to apply discretion in determining other priority areas, such as escape routes, pedestrian walkways, on site roads/yard areas, car or van parking areas and other areas staff or customers may need to visit.
Walkways should be sufficiently gritted or cleared of snow/ice to allow pedestrians to use them in safety. Vehicle routes should also be in a safe condition for cars, vans, lift trucks and lorries to use. Consideration should be given to restricting access to any areas which cannot be made safe to pedestrians or vehicles.
Thought should be given as to when to clear routes. An early warning of snow or icy conditions may allow for priority areas to be salted or gritted in advance. For example during the previous evening or afternoon.
Wintery conditions may also result in more water being trodden into buildings than is usual so thought should be given to ensuring floors are cleaned and dried or entrance mats used to control the risk of slipping.
Arrangements may be necessary for having supplies of snow clearing materials and equipment on site, having persons designated to undertake snow/ice clearance (following suitable training) and to undertake regular external area inspections.
Does this duty of care extend to areas beyond property boundaries?
In answer to this question, there is nothing in law specifically requiring you to take any action beyond the boundary of your property.
In previous years there has been conflicting advice in the press. The Technical Director of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health - IOSH (the leading body for health and safety professionals) released the following statement:
“Deciding whether to grit beyond the boundaries of their property needs to be carefully considered by companies. If access to the premises is covered in ice, companies may choose to grit the access to help their staff and visitors arrive and leave safely, even though it’s not their property. However, in this instance, if they failed to grit the surface properly and someone had an accident as a result, then they could incur some liability.
“As a general rule, though, it’s sensible for firms to consider the risks and take reasonable steps to prevent accidents from happening. If this means gritting outside the boundaries of your workplace, then it’s better to do that than to have people slipping over or involved in car crashes on your doorstep.”
In other words, the IOSH position is to encourage businesses to be a good employer and neighbour by gritting beyond property boundaries and to make sure that the task is carried out thoroughly. As there is no legal requirement to do so this is, therefore, a commercial decision which rests with you!