Top tips for dealing with winter weather

  • Britain will face an exceptionally long and cold winter, according to long-range forecasts
  • Winter weather conditions can increase the risk of property damage, injury and potential liability
  • Read our Winter Weather Guide to help you meet some of the challenges of this season

The last few winters have seen record levels of rainfall, with the British Isles buffeted by a series of ferocious storms and strong winds, as well as protracted periods of ice and snow.

Worryingly, this may just be a taste of what is to come, with long-range forecasts anticipating one of the longest and coldest winters in a generation.

Organisations of all types and sizes will therefore benefit from planning ahead and creating a cold weather plan.

Thinking about weather challenges before they strike, and knowing the appropriate actions to take, can help protect your property, prevent injury and reduce potential liability for any accidents.

Our Winter Weather Guide is a great starting point, detailing some of the risks associated with cold weather and the best ways to manage them.

How to protect property

For public sector organisations, severe weather will impact on the ability to deliver services. It also increases risks around health and safety for employees, contractors and the public, including frozen pipes, dangerous road conditions and a greater potential for slips and trips.

Rain, snow, wind and freezing temperatures all put extra strain on a property and increase the likelihood of damage. During winter months, it is advisable to increase the frequency of property inspections and ensure everything is in a good state of repair.

Extra attention should be paid to at-risk areas, such as gutters, chimneys, roofs and pipes carrying water.

Frozen pipes are a particular risk during cold weather, and an escape of water can cause major damage to a property. To avoid freezing pipes, simple measures can make a big difference. For example, lagging pipes in areas exposed to the cold (such as outside and in roof spaces), keeping heating systems at an ambient temperature, ensuring sprinkler systems are properly maintained and the sprinkler room kept warm.

It is also important that key staff know the location of the building’s stop cocks, so that water can be quickly shut off if a leak does occur.

Protect against slips and trips

Less daylight hours, wet leaves, and the potential for snow and ice all contribute to a rise in slips and trips during autumn and winter.

Organisations owe a legal duty of care to employees and the public when they are on their premises. As an increased potential for slips and trips is foreseeable during winter, it is vital that steps are taken to minimise any incidents and avoid potential liability.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued detailed guidance for organisations, which includes activities such as removing leaves, responding to weather forecasts, and gritting key access routes.

Protect staff

It is important to assess how cold weather conditions might affect your staff, and take reasonable steps to manage this.

For indoor workers, it is recommended that the workplace stay above a minimum of 16 degrees Celsius. In freezing conditions, maintaining this temperature can place additional strain on boilers and heating systems, increasing the chance of breakdown. It is therefore important to service heating equipment regularly and ensure it is capable of handling prolonged cold snaps.

For outdoor workers, including those gritting or clearing leaves at your premises, some extra considerations should be taken. These include the provision of suitable personal protective equipment (PPE), providing a warm area for rest breaks, having a means of summoning help if working alone, and briefing staff on the health effects of cold weather and any symptoms to look out for.

Guidance from the HSE is available to help protect your employees’ when working outdoors.

Dealing with hazardous road conditions

Adverse weather and longer periods of darkness makes driving more hazardous during winter. It is important that organisations consider any additional challenges this presents for their employees, and respond to these.

To address the risks of slippery conditions, some organisations choose to provide employee-drivers with more appropriate vehicles (such as 4x4s) or special winter tyres.

As a minimum, it is advisable to create a formal ‘winter driving policy’. Central to this policy will be the question of whether journeys need to be taken at all during adverse conditions, and if they do, to alter schedules and give employees extra time to make appointments so they can drive at a safe speed.

Policies can also include guidance on preparing vehicles before journeys, including any additional equipment that might be needed, and explaining any actions to take in an emergency or breakdown situation.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) has published detailed winter driving tips, which can help organisations create their own winter driving policy.

Having a plan

It is important that organisations have a winter plan in place in plenty of time, so that staff are fully aware of what to do when conditions worsen. As Britain braces itself for some severe winter weather, we hope these tips provide you with useful information on how best to respond.