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News added on 02.01.2020

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Protecting individuals from the risk of slips and trips during icy weather

Once the freezing weather arrives, what are your obligations to protect your employees, and any visitors to your business premises, from the risk of slips and falls?

Under the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957, as an occupier of premises, you’re under a duty to protect the safety of visitors. You must take such care as is reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that individuals are safe for the purposes for which they’re permitted or invited to be on your premises. These duties still apply even if you’re only a business tenant and don’t own the property. As such, this means you should ensure that accessible affected external areas on your premises are cleared of snow and ice. Simply putting up a warning sign is unlikely to be enough, by itself, to absolve you from liability.

In addition, you owe specific duties to your employees while they’re at work under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and associated regulations. For example, you must conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and put systems in place to manage the risks (see the bullet points below) and you must keep workplace floors free from any substances which may cause someone to slip, trip or fall.

According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), practical steps you can take to reduce the risk of slips and falls on snow or ice include:

  • identifying the outdoor areas used by pedestrians most likely to be affected by ice, e.g. building entrances and exits, car parks, pedestrian walkways, paths, shortcuts, sloped areas and areas that are constantly in the shade or wet
  • monitoring the temperature, as prevention is key
  • taking action whenever freezing temperatures are forecast and keeping up to date by visiting a weather service site such as the Met Office
  • putting a procedure in place to prevent an icy surface forming and/or keeping pedestrians off the slippery surface
  • using grit, or similar, on areas prone to be slippery in icy conditions
  • considering covering walkways, e.g. by an arbour high enough for people to walk through, or using an insulating material on smaller areas overnight
  • diverting pedestrians to less slippery walkways and closing off existing ones.

The HSE states that gritting should be carried out when ice or snow is forecast or when walkways are likely to be damp and the floor temperatures are at or below freezing, and the best times to do this are early in evening before the frost settles and/or early in the morning before employees arrive at work.

However, you don’t have any specific duty to clear snow and ice from public pathways close to your business premises; that’s the responsibility of the local authority. Indeed, if you attempt to clear public pathways of snow and ice but make a poor job of it, there is the risk that you could find yourself liable for any injuries sustained by third parties as a result of your actions!

You’re under statutory duties to protect the safety of both employees and visitors while at work on or visiting your business premises. You should assess the risks presented by snowy and icy conditions and then put systems in place to manage those risks, e.g. by removing snow and ice from walkways and car parks.

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