It’s a frosty winter morning. Snow and ice cover your school grounds. Are you to blame if somebody slips and falls? When it comes to clearing car parks, paths, playgrounds, roadways and boundaries, many school leaders and facilities managers 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.’

Slips and trips are the most common cause of major injuries at work. They account for over one-third of all significant events reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and half of on-site accidents for non-employees. Overall, slips and trips cost employers £512 million per year in lost time and other expenses, according to the HSE.

A seasonal assessment of your school grounds will help ensure they’re winter-ready.

Maintain your main routes 

In freezing weather, your first priority is to clear ice and snow and apply salt or grit to the main access routes to and around the site. You’ll also need to use discretion in determining other essential locations, such as escape routes, pedestrian walkways, on-site roads, delivery zones and other areas people may need to visit.

Walkways should be sufficiently gritted or cleared of snow and ice to allow safe passage for pedestrians. Vehicle routes should also be in a hazard-free condition for cars, coaches and delivery vans. To remove risks altogether, consider restricting access to any spaces that cannot be treated.

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 tracked 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 supplies and equipment on site. Ensure that your school’s maintenance team or caretaker has received suitable training, and conduct regular inspections of external areas.

Does your 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 employers to be good neighbours by gritting beyond property boundaries and making sure the task is carried out thoroughly. As there is no legal requirement, however, this important decision rests with you.