Firms should prepare now for slippery situations

Slipping on ice and snow

01.12.2006

Firms are being warned not to get complacent over the risk of injury to workers and customers from slippery ice and snow.

The winter weather might be getting milder but frosty mornings and cold snaps can still occur anywhere and at any time over the next few months and businesses need to be prepared, according to Phil Grace Norwich Unions casualty risk manager.

Slips and trips caused by snow

The insurer raised the issue of slips and trips arising from snow and ice remained a frequent cause of insurance claims, and although such incidents were often quite minor, occasionally people would suffer serious injuries.

He spoke of one case in which an employee slipped on ice on a sloping footpath while leaving work. Another worker was tasked with clearing and gritting the area, which had been identified as a hazard.

"However, the person responsible for keeping the footpath safe during the winter months happened to be on holiday at the time, and no-one had been told to fill in for them," said Mr Grace. "The employee who slipped and fell suffered from severe bruising and two cracked ribs."

Norwich Union's casualty risk manager added: "There is a clear need to keep footpaths and walkways clear of ice and snow to reduce the risk of slipping. This duty is well established both in legislation and as a result of civil claims."

The Health and Safety at Work Act emphasises the need for access to and egress from places of work to be kept "safe and without such risks", while the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations specifically mentions keeping floors free from any substance that could cause a person to slip, trip or fall, "as far as is reasonably practicable".

In addition, the Occupiers Liability Act requires that visitors to premises are kept "reasonably safe for the purposes for which they are invited or permitted to enter".

"Regardless of the legal requirements, the issue is really one of simple good management," said Phil Grace.

"Workplaces can get bogged down over issues such as; where the responsibility for clearing ice and snow begins and ends; and how far they should go in terms of gritting and clearing. To be honest, there is often no straightforward answer to these questions.

"The main thing is remember is to assess the risks and to act reasonably. For example, it is probably unreasonable to expect a business to clear an entire area of snow, if the ground is fairly even and workers and members of the public are unlikely to walk on many parts of the site.

"On the other hand, organisations should be prepared to manage a sloping footpath or stairway for example, especially when it is used frequently and may be prone to frost. It's all about taking a sensible and considered approach."

Other issues to take into account would be keeping emergency exits and routes safe, and also any danger arising from people bringing snow into the premises on their feet.

"Melted snow on a polished surface can be like bringing an ice-rink inside the building," said Phil Grace.

Can we help you? If you or someone you know has been effected by this or a similar issue, please visit our workplace accident section.