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, and some experts are predicting this winter could be the coldest in seven years.

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.

Getting to work safely

Disruption to the travel network could be one of the biggest challenges your organisation will face.

You should ensure you have a clear severe weather travel plan, which is communicated to all employees and contractors. This plan should include guidance on when it is safe or unsafe to travel, who to contact in an emergency, and contingency measures in the event of disruption to the local travel network (e.g. home working, alternative routes etc).

Employers also have a statutory duty, under the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Occupiers’ Liability Act, to maintain access to their work premises in a safe condition; in winter, this could mean clearing snow and ice from paths or car parks.

Care needs to be taken when deciding who should be responsible for clearing ice and snow and gritting paths and car parks. You should undertake a comprehensive risk assessment, and provide appropriate training and protective equipment. In order to 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.

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 accidents 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

Zurich Risk Engineering has produced a Severe Weather Driving Tips guide.

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

While established, larger organisations, will have severe weather contingency plans in place, smaller or newer organisations, such as charities or academies, may not have well-practised procedures to rely on.

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.

Community and social organisations can also help, by developing severe weather contingencies for an area. For example, individuals can form groups to clear minor roads as well as to check on the elderly and infirm in their community. Zurich’s My Community Starter gives guidance on how to go about this in your area.