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All wrapped up for winter

Nikki_singh_barmiGood preparation is key to success, especially where risk is involved. Former US Senator Mark Udall commented: “You don’t climb mountains without a team, you don’t climb mountains without being fit, you don’t climb mountains without being prepared and you don’t climb mountains without balancing the risks and rewards.” In this article GRITIT director Nikki Singh-Barmi explains how risks can be offset around winter weather

Preparing for and acting before the hazards of bad weather present themselves, through a robust winter maintenance plan, enables facilities managers to contribute to their organisation’s strategic objectives by ensuring that they meet their duty of care, providing compliance assurity, managing risk and meeting insurance criteria and supporting business continuity.

A recent BIFM survey revealed that the situation has improved since 2012 when just 65 per cent of respondents said they plan for the winter and review their plan annually. But almost a quarter of FMs say that they still do not have a winter maintenance plan in place. To help FMs prepare for adverse winter weather, from beginning preparations and scheduling interior and exterior maintenance tasks, to grounds maintenance, gritting, and snow clearance, the BIFM is publishing a new Good Practice Guide to Winter Maintenance in partnership with GRITIT.

While people slipping on snow and ice might produce entertaining footage for TV shows, it can be far more serious for organisations if someone slips and injures themselves on their property. An ad hoc service approach is no longer adequate to support business confidence or continuity. At the same time, unpredictable winters are playing havoc with planned preventative maintenance programmes, not to mention landscaping design and air-conditioning use.

FMs have a duty of care to ensure that employees, or anyone visiting or passing by the facility, including suppliers on company business and members of the public, are safe. Very few organisations have a winter risk policy embedded in their health and safety policy and, when severe weather strikes, this means that thousands of organisations are failing in their basic duty of care. The Health and Safety at Work Act etc 1974, states that organisations must assess the risks to employees and customers and arrange for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring, and review of preventive and protective measures. An adverse weather policy, which clearly communicates how an organisation will manage, and take action in, extreme weather situations to protect the health and safety of staff is therefore vital for meeting the duty of care in winter.

As well as the Health and safety at Work etc Act 1974, there are a number of other important pieces of legislation that are relevant to FMs in the winter months. These cover workplace temperatures, working outside in cold weather, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and ensuring that buildings and structures are safe. If organisations ignore the law, they place themselves at risk of legal action. This can have a major effect on both the individual concerned, the organisation’s reputation and its finances and, over the past few years, there has been an increase in litigation with ‘slipping on ice’ accidents having the potential for the most high value claims and compensation.

Alongside health and safety and reputational risk, an increase in variable winter weather could have major operational and financial consequences, for organisations that simply react to the weather conditions. The ability to manage severe weather is key to business competitiveness and the FM has a key role to play.

The BIFM Good Practice Guide gives detailed guidance for creating a winter maintenance plan. Late spring and early summer is the time to review the winter maintenance plan using up-to-date information, and drawing on recent experience from the winter just gone, to resolve any issues, explore new initiatives, and allocate budget to improve the plan going forward for the coming winter.

Harsh winter conditions can present many challenges for FMs. There are a number of simple but effective exterior and interior maintenance areas, on which businesses can focus, to prevent and reduce the impact of cold weather on their operations:

  • exterior walls
  • windows and glazing
  • potholes
  • gritting and snow clearance

A robust gritting and snow clearance service that comes into operation, 24/7 and 365 days a year, as soon as the daily forecast for road surface temperatures falls to or below 0°c, provides reassurance for the FM that all reasonable activity is taking place across the premises to mitigate business risk.

Whether it is self-delivered or outsourced, designated entrances, walkways and car park areas should be a priority for the gritting and snow clearance service. Many jobs require employees to be outside when temperatures are low. The risk of injury from slipping on snow and ice is obvious but working outside in poor weather conditions can lead to severe health problems, such as frostbite or hypothermia.

The winter maintenance plan is a good vehicle for mitigating the hazards of working outdoors and ensuring that the duty of care is met by:

  • carrying out risk assessments
  • issuing personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • allocating more frequent rest breaks
  • educating employees

As the days get shorter organisations should look at road safety as part of the winter maintenance plan and invest resources in maintaining the safety of their facilities, fleet, and staff. Businesses also have a legal obligation to ensure as much as possible has been done to ensure that access routes and car parks are safe from the risks of ice and snow for staff, visitors and contractors working onsite. The Good Practice Guide to Winter Maintenance draws on best practice for driving safely and vehicle maintenance.

To pre-order a copy of the guide, which includes practical advice, top tips, and best practice examples, email Sabrina@gritit.com.

About Sarah OBeirne

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