Winter Storm Season: Are You Ready?

Winter storm season has arrived. The US has been hit by a ‘polar vortex’ winter storm front causing heFlooded river2avy snowfall, closed interstates, cancelled flights, bitter cold, and deep freeze conditions. Here in the UK, we’ve had heavy rainfall with flood warnings across much of Britain, hail, high winds, and now a warning of a new band of heavy rain to hit the southwest. As temperatures continue to drop, winter storms bringing snow are just around the corner.

It’s never too late to make sure that your business is ready for the winter storm season! Our advice is to plan ahead for the effects of snow and ice. Ensure that your surface water drains are running freely, so that areas that can pond (or flood) and therefore freeze do not become mini ice rinks. Likewise, deal with pot holes that can have the same effect. Prioritise busy paths or those used by the elderly or infirm if your resources are tight.

Have a policy for snow clearance – especially if you have a large or multiple sites. Decide in advance how you will handle clearance and ensure that you have the people, contractors, equipment and grit in place to meet potential demand. If you manage a large site, it may become impossible to keep on top of clearance in which case make plans to allocate safe access/egress routes that you can keep clear. If you are asking your staff to undertake gritting, be sure that you have safe systems in place to undertake this. Gritting and snow clearance can be physically demanding and there is inexpensive equipment on the market that can make this quicker and much less back breaking! After Christmas, however, you may be able to attract some additional volunteers as it can be a good mini-workout and a way to shift those extra few pounds!

If you opt for partial snow clearance, in main routes only, ensure that you clearly communicate with site users where these safe routes are. This could be via signage, notices (e.g. a marked site plan) or by email depending on your business. It may be relevant to close parts of your site that can not be made safe (for example exposed ramps on car parks). Again, work with your site users, tenants or residents so that they are clear on what they can expect.

If you have to close your school or business, think about how you might communicate this information so that everyone knows as soon as possible. Can pupils be set work they can complete at home if they can not get into school? If roads or routes are clearly treacherous, workers should not be expected to use their vehicles – so is it possible for them to work from home?

Also, think about outdoor pipes and those areas which can freeze with the potential for flooding later. If you have outdoor watering systems, ensure that these are clear of water before being cleared away for the winter and insulate other areas.

Hailstones on stairsAll businesses should regularly check that they are not exposing others to potential slip, trip or fall risks and this can be undertaken by simple walk-through checks. If you grit in the early morning, it is possible for slush to turn to ice as the sun goes down late afternoon so you may need to look at whether further gritting may be necessary.

Finally, many businesses and schools worry that if they clear snow and someone slips they are more likely to be subject to claims than if they did nothing at all. Provided you have a policy in place, that you plan in advance and check the robustness of your arrangements once in place, this will not be the case. The clearance work that you undertake, and the plans you make now, may mean your business can operate when your competitors have had to close. Schools that stay open will enable parents to get to work rather than having to deal with child care arrangements at short notice.

A recent article by the HSE should also provide further assurances?

So, are you ready for the white stuff?