A quick guide to winter health and safety

  • Winter brings with it a range of seasonal perils, for which public and voluntary organisations need to prepare
  • Many of these risks are weather-related, from trips and slips on icy paths to road closures that could disrupt essential services
  • We discuss some of the practical measures and contingencies organisations should look to put in place this winter

Wintry weather can cause disruption for any organisation.

By taking sensible precautions, both public and voluntary sector organisations can minimise the impact on their employees and their service users. Here, we discuss a few of the ways your organisation can prepare for winter.

Protecting the public and employees 

Fewer 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 have a legal duty of care to employees and the public when they are on their premises. In winter, this could mean clearing snow and ice from paths or car parks to minimise the risk of slips and trips to help avoid potential liability. You should:

  • Undertake a comprehensive risk assessment, and provide appropriate training and protective equipment.
  • Take care when deciding who should be responsible for clearing ice and snow and gritting paths and car parks
  • Help to ensure you can defend public liability and employers’ liability claims. Organisations must be able to demonstrate they have followed their winter weather policy, and show evidence of their inspection records and gritting plans.

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.

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.

Work-related winter driving

Organisations have additional responsibilities to ensure the safety of employees who are required to drive as part of their role.

Ensuring compliance with road traffic law is not enough – you must also comply with health and safety law, as this applies equally to on-the-road work activities as to all other work activities.

Proper consideration needs to be given to managing the risks of collisions and injuries caused by driving in adverse weather conditions.

The following considerations are particularly important:

  • You should provide employees with guidelines for driving in different weather conditions, or a separate winter driving policy
  • Risk assessments should be conducted for any work-related driving activity
  • These assessments should be vehicle and driver-specific where practicable
  • Consider providing emergency kits which could include high-visibility jackets, torches, bottled water and blankets

Maintaining essential services

If your organisation provides essential services, for example home care visits, it is imperative to have detailed plans that set out how you would deliver these services in the event of significant disruption to the transport network.

This could include details about:

  • The availability and suitability of alternative routes
  • External organisations/individuals who might be able to help (e.g. by providing 4×4 vehicles)
  • How your contingency planning should be communicated to internal and external stakeholders
  • How details of any alternative arrangements would be communicated to your service users

Whatever the size of your organisation, good guidance, clearly communicated to all stakeholders, is key to ensuring your emergency and contingency planning for severe weather events functions effectively.