It’s a frosty winter morning. Snow and ice cover your car park. Are you to blame if a customer slips and falls? When it comes to clearing parking lots, paths, yards, roadways and boundaries, many business owners are unsure of their specific responsibilities.

You have a duty of care to anyone on your premises to provide an environment free from slip risks, even during snowfall or icy conditions. The Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations explains: ‘So far as is reasonably practicable, every floor in a workplace and the surface of every traffic route in a workplace shall be kept free from obstructions and from any article or substance which may cause a person to slip, trip or fall.’ It goes on to specify: ‘…arrangements should be made to minimise risks from snow or ice which may involve gritting, snow clearing and closure of some routes, particularly outside stairs, ladders and walkways on roofs.’

A seasonal assessment of your site will help ensure it’s winter ready.

Maintain your main routes

In icy weather, your first priority is to clear ice/snow and apply salt/grit to the main access routes to and around the site. You’ll also need to use discretion in determining other priority areas, such as escape routes, pedestrian walkways, on site roads/yard areas, car or van parking areas and other areas staff or customers may need to visit.

Walkways should be sufficiently gritted or cleared of snow/ice to allow safe passage for pedestrians. Vehicle routes should also be in a safe condition for cars, vans, lift trucks and lorries to use. Consideration should be given to restricting access to any areas that cannot be made safe.

Choose the right time  

Think about the best time to clear your routes. An early warning of snow or icy conditions may allow for priority areas to be salted or gritted in advance – for example, during the previous evening or afternoon.

Keep interior floors dry  

Wintery conditions may also result in water being trodden into buildings, so ensure floors are cleaned and dried or entrance mats used to control the risk of slipping.

Be prepared

If required, keep snow clearing suppliers and equipment on site. Form a designated team to undertake snow/ice clearance (following suitable training) and regular external area inspections.

Does this duty of care extend to areas beyond property boundaries?

Simply put, there is nothing in law specifically requiring you to take any action beyond the boundary of your property.

The press, however, has published conflicting advice on the subject in previous years. The Technical Director of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the leading body for health and safety professionals, released the following statement:

‘Deciding whether to grit beyond the boundaries of their property needs to be carefully considered by companies. If access to the premises is covered in ice, companies may choose to grit the access to help their staff and visitors arrive and leave safely, even though it’s not their property. However, in this instance, if they failed to grit the surface properly and someone had an accident as a result, then they could incur some liability.

‘As a general rule, though, it’s sensible for firms to consider the risks and take reasonable steps to prevent accidents from happening. If this means gritting outside the boundaries of your workplace, then it’s better to do that than to have people slipping over or involved in car crashes on your doorstep.’

In other words, IOSH encourages businesses to be good employers and neighbours by gritting beyond property boundaries and making sure that the task is carried out thoroughly. As there is no legal requirement, however, this commercial decision rests with you.

For more advice about gritting or any other health and safety concerns, please get in touch.