Winter safety solutions – establish your snow and ice procedure in advance

With winter just around the corner, it’s time to focus on the requirements and legalities of cold weather compliance. Your health and safety responsibilities change with every season, and winter puts your staff and customers at particular risk of slips, falls and associated injuries. 

Advance planning is crucial to protect personnel and visitors – and prevent the high cost of penalties and civil claims.  

Are you legally required to clear snow and ice from your car park, paths, yards, roadways and boundaries? 

As a business owner, you have a legal responsibility to protect anyone on your premises from slip risks. This means taking steps to create a consistently safe environment, even in snowy or icy conditions. 

The guidance in the Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 instructs, ‘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.’  

The Regulations go on to say, ‘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.’ 

The critical importance of a Snow and Ice Clearance Procedure  

When snow and ice hit, your most pressing objective is to make safe your primary access routes. This involves removing snow from all priority areas of your site and treating surfaces with rock salt. 

A clear, well-communicated Snow and Ice Clearance Procedure is key. The plan explains the roles, responsibilities and resources that come into play before, during and after challenging weather conditions. It also outlines your action plan and ‘chain of command’ for maintaining safe access for staff, customers and vehicles.  

Your management team should understand the procedure and recognise when to implement it, based on daily monitoring of weather forecasts throughout winter. Your plan will be unique to your site, but should cover a checklist of core concerns:  

  • Can your branch be safely accessed on foot and by car? Walkways should be sufficiently gritted or cleared of snow to allow pedestrians to use them safely. If you’re not able to clear all routes, then a network of paths to access and egress the main buildings should be shovelled and maintained. If particular areas can’t be treated, you may need to close them completely.
  • Do pedestrians and drivers know where to go? Use clearly visible signage to warn pedestrians of icy areas, direct them away from unsafe spaces and keep them on cleared routes.
  • Who’s first on site to clear? Nominate someone for early arrival to reduce the impact of ice and snow on your main routes before opening hours.
  • And who’s on call for backup? Winter storms often demand more hands on deck. Ensure employees know they may be needed when snowfall or frost is forecast – and that they understand their responsibilities when they report to site.
  • Are your workers protected from the elements? Early mornings and dark evenings in sub-zero temperatures require specialist PPE, so ensure your staff are properly protected. Kit out your team in workwear purpose-built for freezing conditions, including thermally insulated boots, warm clothing and hi-vis jackets.
  • Can you count on your equipment and machinery? Before a cold snap, check all gritting and snow clearance tools to confirm they’re in good working order. Equipment and machinery should only be used by trained staff, following risk assessment guidelines.
  • What’s the best time to grit? Keep a close eye on weather forecasts to maximise your gritting efforts. Apply rock salt to steps, slopes and walkways (being careful to avoid people and property) in the afternoon or evening before an air frost (0◦c or below) or before snow is expected to fall.
  • Will your supplies see you through winter? Be ready for the first frost by buying rock salt quantities well in advance – then conduct a rolling stock take to prevent being caught short. Check and maintain levels until March at the earliest, so you always have sufficient supplies onsite.
  • Are your building interiors safe and dry? Winter injury risks aren’t restricted to your car park, walkways and yard –slushy shoes can quickly transfer hazards from the outside in. Keep surfaces meticulously dry underfoot and position wet floor warning signs throughout your retail and office spaces. Stop slip risks at the door by placing absorbent mats at every entrance point.   

Head off New Year fireworks hazards   

Guy Fawkes Night may have passed, but we’re not free of firework hazards just yet. With more communities and families staging displays to ring in the New Year, your yard remains vulnerable through winter.  

The fireworks season can significantly increase your fire risks. Your yard is full of combustible materials, including wooden pallets or bearers and packaging products such as cardboard. Every year, we see builders merchants branches set alight by stray rockets – but a few simple steps can protect your premises.  

You should take reasonable measures to minimise the potential of a fire starting at your location by doing the following:

  • Recognise your risks – Understand that if your branch is in a residential area or near a known fireworks display, the chance of fire is increased.
  • Survey your site daily – Conduct a walking inspection of your branch every morning during fireworks season, keeping your eyes open for embers, smouldering fires and any loose materials that could spark a blaze.
  • Keep your yard clear – Now’s the time to get on top of yard housekeeping. Pallets (where required) should be neatly stacked and items that can easily catch fire – such as paper, cardboard and spare wood – need to be taken off site or disposed of in a skip.
  • Get rid of empty pallets – Empty pallets are highly combustible and can place your yard in significant danger. Move them safely inside or go one better by removing them from your site altogether.
  • Secure your skips – It takes seconds for a firework to land in an open skip and set the contents alight. Make sure all skips and dustbins are closed and covered, adding weights to secure lids in high winds.   

Speak to the Opus specialists

If you’re looking for safety solutions to prevent slips, trips and fire risks in your builders merchants, get in touch. We’ll provide feedback on your current H&S strategy and share personalised guidance to boost compliance in every branch.

Schedule some time in the diary or get in touch on or 0330 0434015.