As weather patters become more unpredictable, charity facilities managers may need to deal with extreme weather more often. Snow and ice pose safety risks for buildings and people - and challenges for facilities managers.
Here is some advice on key issues:
1. Getting information on the situation
Keep in touch with weather warnings issued by the Met Office. Their website has local forecasts and weather warnings: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather
Your local authority may publish helpful information on what is happening in your area on its website. Research and bookmark local authority pages with information on emergency contact numbers, schools advice and gritting operations.
2. Keeping paths clear - What should your Charity do?
This topic comes up every time it snows! The clearest advice we have found was published in “Safety & Health Practitioner”, the official magazine of IOSH, in 2009.
This is the full text: (my emphasis)
“There is a requirement under reg.12 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 to ensure the safe condition of floors and traffic routes. Paragraph 96 of the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) to these Regulations makes specific reference to minimising the risks from snow and ice, and there is a recommendation regarding snow-clearing and gritting.
Some employers may be worried that they might attract a liability if this is not done adequately. Two civil cases are relevant to this question: Bloxham v Swan Hunter Shipbuilders Ltd (unreported, 58/208) and Fildes v International Computers (1984, CLY 2316, CA). In these cases, it was established that a system for controlling the hazards of snow and ice discharges liability if it fulfills best practice, but is not expected to extend to unreasonable lengths.
In particular, these cases established that devoting the resources available to clearing the most used areas in priority to those less used was reasonable. Gritting twice a day, early in the morning and in the early evening (the times when most traffic – vehicle and pedestrian – is expected) is likely to be most practicable, but individual circumstances may vary.
It is particularly valuable to remind employees of their duty under s7 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 to take care of their own safety, particularly when moving about in slippery conditions. One hazard that is frequently forgotten is the slippery floors caused by people bringing in water and slush on their shoes. Extra care with doormats and floor cleaning is likely to help reduce this hazard.
When clearing snow and ice, it is probably worth stopping at the boundaries of the property under your control. If an area of the public highway is cleared, there is a common-law duty of care to ensure that it is cleared properly and remains clear. If this duty is not fulfilled, it can lead to an action for damages against the company, e.g. if members of the public, assuming that the area is still clear of ice and thus safe to walk on, slip and injure themselves.”
This is the link to the original article:
3. What should you use to clear paths?
You have a choice of:
a) Manual Clearing
b) Rock Salt
c) Other De-icing Chemicals
a) Manual Clearing:
A shovel works best. A shovel can get down to the path surface and lift off all the snow - a brush often just smooths over the surface, potentially making it more dangerous. Never use hot water! It will melt the snow, but can quickly freeze as black ice.
b) Rock Salt (Sodium chloride)
Rock salt is the most commonly used substance for clearing roads and paths. It can be mixed with sand, gravel or ash. It is cheap and easily available.
However, rock salt is an abrasive and can corrode to car paintwork and windscreens, concrete and metals. When the snow melts, the water run-off containing the salts will damage vegetation and water courses. In high concentrations, the dust from rock salt can cause breathing problems.
c) Other De-icing Chemicals
Chemical de-icers include products containing salts (calcium chloride, potassium chloride or magnesium chloride). They are not as corrosive as rock salt and are less damaging to the environment. They are more expensive.
Other products contain acetates (sodium acetate and calcium magnesium acetate). These are considered non-corrosive and biodegradable, but costly. They change ice and snow into slush, which may be suitable for driving, but paths would additionally require manual clearing.
Almost all ice-melting substances include potentially harmful chemicals - so one simple step is to reduce the need to for them: consider closing non-essential routes. That way you don’t have to spend energy or use chemicals to keep them clear.
4. Other actions to minimise slips and falls
- use floor mats at building entrances to reduce wet floors
- use signage to highlight potentially slippery floors inside your buildings
- ensure that all outside paths are well-lit
- avoid having people undertaking heavy lifting during icy spells
- consider re-routing paths to more protected areas
5. Check Roofs for damage after Heavy Snow and Ice
Repeated snow falls can result in a considerable weight of snow on roofs. The combination of roof shape and wind direction can result in areas where a lot of snow accumulates. Particular areas to watch are places where the roof abuts a wall, or where there is a lower roof section, and awnings. In the worst case, the weight of snow can damage the roof or even cause collapse.
During longer periods of snowfall, check for signs that a roof may be under stress. Signs to look for include a deflection (change in shape) of the roof, or splitting or twisting of the roof timbers.
If there is any doubt about the safety of the roof, the building should be evacuated until you can get professional advice.
Ice: Water and ice are a considerable problem for roofs. Ice can form in gutters and drains, meaning that the melted snow can’t drain away from the roof. Instead, it can seep under roof tiles and then refreeze at night, eventually dislodging tiles and getting into the roof space.
There is little to be done while your roof is buried under snow and ice, but these issues highlight the importance of regular inspection and maintenance of roofs.
6. Falling Ice
The heat from buildings can cause snow to melt, drip, and then refreeze as it slowly cools. The result of these frozen drips is icicles, which can form along the edges of roofs, along window ledges and any other ledges.
People can be severely injured - and even killed - by falling icicles. So be aware that they are not just pretty to look at. Icicles can fall a considerable distance out from a building. People should be kept away from areas with icicles above.
Maintenance staff should not place ladders against ice-covered roofs, as the ladder may dislodge ice or icicles.
7. Health & Safety Considerations for those undertaking clearing
Whatever method you employ to clear snow and ice, workers clearing snow should be adequately kitted out and trained to use products safely. Clearing snow involves considerable physical effort, and workers should be trained to avoid over-exertion and back injuries.
8. Advice on Driving
If you or your staff need to drive in adverse weather conditions, ensure they that follow good safety practice. Drivers should:
- check weather forecasts before starting
- clear the windscreen of snow, frost or condensation. The Highway Code stipulates you must be able to see out of every glass panel in your vehicle.
- ensure mobile phones are fully charged, and take an in-car charger
Snow safety kit:
The Red Cross website suggests taking the following Car Safety Kit:
- Ice scraper and de-icer
- Snow shovel
- A map in case you need to find your way around diversions
- Blanket and warm clothes
- First aid kit
- Battery-operated torch and spare batteries, or a wind-up torch
- Battery-operated radio and spare batteries, or a wind-up radio
- Jump leads
The AA has a page with good information on driving in winter conditions: AA Advice on Winter Driving
9. Do you have a Snow and Ice Management Policy?
A written policy shows that your charity has thought about the risks, and has identified the actions it will take to mitigate those risks. If there is an accident, you will need to be able to show that you have acted to fulfill your duty of care obligations.
Imperial College has published its policy setting out how it aims to deal with snow, what it expects from staff and line managers, and a general statement on snow clearance. You can read it on their website at this address: Imperial College Facilities Management Snow and Ice Policy
Imperial College also publishes its policies relating to the clearing of specific areas. Read an example here: Imperial College / South Kensington Campus clearing policy
Associated with this, does your charity have a clear and known process for these instances?
- deciding to close the building,
- for informing building/service users, and
- for continuing communications about whether you are open for business?
10. What is the legal minimum temperature for an office?
See our page about Workplace Temperatures.
Download this advice in pdf format: