Winter weather checklists for universities

  • Cold weather conditions increase the likelihood of slip and trip claims
  • Some universities may need to close if their site is no longer safe for staff and/or students
  • Our checklists can help keep your campus safe during winter weather and help you better defend against potential claims

After an abnormally warm start to the year, Britain is experiencing a bout of severe winter weather, with some parts of the UK now colder than Ukraine and Iceland.

Winter conditions can increase the risk of injury, with nearly 3,000 people a year in England alone admitted to hospital from falling on snow or ice.

Slips, trips and falls are a major source of claims – both genuine and fraudulent – against educational establishments. It is therefore important to take extra care during winter periods to keep grounds safe, and maintain suitable records to defend potential claims.

The following checklists can help universities and other educational establishments respond appropriately to winter weather.

Preparation and actions

Severe weather can strike at short notice. It is important to have plans in place and be on top of essential maintenance.

  • Monitor the Met Office’s Severe Weather Warnings.
  • Make staff and students aware of the university’s communication channels (for example, websites, email, text message, Facebook, Twitter and local noticeboards). Encourage everyone to monitor these regularly for information on precautions to take on campus and of any campus closures.
  • Areas most likely to be affected by snow/ice should be identified in advance – for example building entrances, steps, sloping paths and areas in constant wet/shade.
  • Ensure salt/grit stocks are plentiful.
  • Roads on campus are technically private roads, which local councils and the Highway Authority have no responsibility to maintain. Your university is solely responsible for the clearing and gritting of all paths, roads and car parks on campus and you should prioritise the clearance of main thoroughfares around the campus.
  • Salt/grit areas prone to snow and ice in advance of icy conditions; salt/grit does not work instantly. The best time is early evening before the frost settles, or early morning before people arrive on campus. Prioritise those areas with high footfall or increased risk of injury (such as slopes and steps).
  • Clear any snow or ice from walkways. You need to do a good job and not make conditions worse. Pouring boiling water is not an option, as it will create more ice when it cools. Continually monitor and clear – you will probably have to tackle an area more than once.
  • Restrict movement around the site during severe conditions and close off walkways that are especially high risk or unable to be sufficiently cleared.
  • Ensure paving slabs and tarmac paths are in good condition, providing stable, flat and even surfaces to walk on.
  • Handrails should be checked and stable.
  • Provide mats at all building entrances for people to wipe their feet to reduce slippages indoors.
  • Parking areas and driveways should be free from potholes.
  • There should be suitable lighting throughout the site and all should be in working order.
  • Gutters need to be kept clear to prevent overflow of water.
  • Radiators should be clear of obstructions to allow proper circulation of warmed air and maximise the heating of buildings.
  • Ensure boilers and heating systems have been recently inspected to reduce the risk of them breaking down when they are most needed.
  • Ensure school vehicles are fitted with winter tyres to reduce the risk of skidding and motor accidents.
  • Trees should be regularly surveyed and documented to reduce the likelihood of weakened branches breaking off and hitting people or equipment/ buildings/ power lines in high winds or under the weight of snow.

Decision to close

While every effort should be made to stay open, during severe weather conditions it may be necessary to close all or part of your campus if it is no longer safe for staff or students.

  • The Department for Education, has specific criteria for what will necessitate the closure of educational sites and the correct procedures to follow, this is worth checking for relevance to your campus.
  • Actively monitor weather information, heavy snowfall may well occur during the day when the campus is already open and you need to keep a careful eye on the situation.
  • When deciding whether to close all or part of your campus you need to take into account the safety of staff, students and other campus users including catering and security, and your ability to provide key services if providers of core services are not able to get in safely.
  • If the campus is open but with limited services or access you need to communicate information as quickly as possible via a variety of communication channels (for example, text message, email, websites, Facebook, Twitter and local noticeboards). Place a notice on all entrances to the site.
  • Security and residential services will need to be maintained for those living on campus even if your campus is closed – have plans in place to facilitate this.
  • When closing for a prolonged period, consult our previous checklist on protecting sites during a closure.

Record keeping

The decisions made during severe weather conditions can attract significant scrutiny. Whether this is a complaint following the closure of services, or a personal injury claim following a slip on campus, it is important to be able to justify the actions of your organisation.

Record keeping is therefore essential, and will often be the difference between successfully defending a claim or being found liable. This should apply to all aspects of activity and decision-making, from routine maintenance checks to the clearing of snow and ice.