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Heavy weather

In the face of unpredictable, extreme winter weather, what can FMs do to protect their organisations? Start planning now, says Vicky Lopez, Founder and Director of De-ice

We hear the same message year after year – companies need to be prepared for the winter that lies ahead. Yet once we have struggled through the immediate challenges, we often let our guard down as soon as the snow thaws. The extreme weather of February and March brought home the real need for businesses to have a winter maintenance plan – or risk being caught out.

Organisations across the UK have declared declining profits from the beginning of this year, and Britain’s economy was described as ‘flatlining’ – in large part a consequence of the weather. Aviva, which reported a decrease in profits from £1.47 billion a year earlier to £1.44 billion over the first six months of this year, was knocked by a significant increase in weather-related claims, including from its UK division, which suffered the effects of the ‘Beast from the East’ in early spring. Additionally, the already struggling UK high street saw massive declines in sales due to the heavy snow.

Between November 2017 and April 2018, it wasn’t unusual to see one day at well below zero, followed by another day of mild temperatures. Thanks to three major snow events all rolled into a couple of months, it was one of the most challenging seasons yet for many winter maintenance companies. Some counties were cut off almost completely, which saw gritting vehicles battling with road closures. This kind of random, extreme weather can make the job seem almost impossible.

There’s a lot winter maintenance companies can do to ensure they are as prepared as possible, such as the timely purchase of new machinery and vehicles, a comprehensive service and maintenance programme for all equipment, and full stocks of salt. Partnerships with third parties can be formed in case additional resources are required. However, the events of last winter made everyone realise there are only so many resources available in the country as a whole. No matter how much companies like ourselves prepare, sustained periods of cold weather and snowfall will force us to prioritise the management and allocation of our resources. If too many people contact us for help, the needs of our own contracted clients will come first.

What can FMs do to prepare their own organisations? No two winters are ever the same, and there is no predictable pattern to follow. Yet it’s essential not to take a chance on the safety of site visitors and staff. Being unprepared can set you on a slippery slope to open-ended risk and litigation. No one can afford to be complacent. Organisations of every type, in every sector, have to take matters into their own hands, assess the risks and do all they reasonably can. Making contingency plans in advance before the cold weather kicks in is a must.

Retail outlets, offices, hospitals and similar establishments have a duty of care to ensure that premises are kept safe and free from hazards, as far as is reasonably practicable. Failure to take the appropriate actions to reduce the risk of the public slipping and falling could be considered a breach in their duty of care, and possible negligence.

The HSE’s approved code of practice for the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations explicitly refers to snowy and icy conditions, noting that “dutyholders need to minimise the risks from snow and ice”. Restricted or unsafe access to premises is a risk to staff and visitors, and hampers the organisation’s ability to operate effectively. It’s not just about safety and lost revenue, but also reputation. Who wants to be in the public eye for a possible slip or trip on their premises, which may lead to an injury or – much worse – a fatality?

Some FMs will opt for self-service which, with the proper care, tools and planning, can be a good option. However, the majority will seek to work with a winter gritting and risk management provider. This ensures a consistent level of service and the guarantee of a complete audit trail. Should any incidents or potential disputes occur, the facility can show evidence of the care and preparations taken to protect employees and visitors.

About Sarah OBeirne

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