Q&A – CLEARING SNOW AND ICE

Question

I have heard that in the event of adverse weather, it’s better not to try to clear ice or snow from our shopping centre as we may be held liable for any accident. Is this correct, or would it be better to just close the site?

Answer

As you are inviting people onto your premises, it is particularly important to make them as safe as possible. However, once you start clearing snow or ice, ensure that you do not create more of a hazard, such as creating black ice which a customer may not see.

From a legal perspective, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 set down requirements for the condition of floors and traffic routes. These state that, so far as is reasonably practicable, all traffic routes should be free from anything that may cause a person to slip, trip or fall. The accompanying Approved Code of Practice says:

“Arrangements should be made to minimise risks from snow and ice. This may involve gritting, snow clearing and closure of some routes, particularly outside stairs, ladders and walkways on roofs.”

It is important to remember that the expectation is to do what is reasonable in the circumstances. Your priority may be to clear away any ice and snow from outside entrance doors and then to progress onto other areas. Gritting early in the morning and evening is likely to be a practicable option, although individual circumstances will vary. Customers and members of staff should also remember to take extra care.

Furthermore, when coming inside, it is likely that people will bring slush in on their shoes. Therefore, ensure that cleaning regimes and suitable doormats are in place to minimise the presence of water.

When considering an employer’s liability, civil cases such as Bloxham v Swan Hunter Shipbuilders have established that a system for controlling snow and ice discharges liability where it conforms to best practice; such systems are not expected to extend to unreasonable lengths. The cases also show that it is deemed reasonable to focus resources on those areas which are most used. However, if conditions are so bad that despite your best efforts, safe access/egress is not possible, it may indeed be appropriate to close the premises for a period. Such a decision should be made as quickly as possible, and it should be clear who has the authority to decide.

Anticipation is key. Ensure you keep supplies of rock salt and clearance equipment. Identify priority areas, including zones where cars and pedestrians mix, well-used paths, and don’t forget fire escape exit routes. Give slopes, steps and changes of level extra attention. It’s unlikely that you’ll be sued or held responsible if someone is injured on a path or pavement if you’ve cleared it carefully. If your planned clearance is beaten back by heavy snowfall, then you may need to divert pedestrians to a few cleared routes with the help of signs or barriers.

Rock salt doesn’t work instantly; it needs time to be ground down, which is when it becomes most efficient. Gritting twice a day early in the morning and in the early evening is likely to be most practicable, but circumstances may vary. The best time to put down rock salt is in the evening before temperatures nose dive and the ice forms. If it has snowed, put salt over the first layer of snow. Compacted snow, which turns to ice, is difficult to treat with grit. Avoid contaminating plants and trees during spreading.

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