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Outside chance

Peter Fane, Founding Director of grounds maintenance specialist Nurture Landscapes, warns FMs to start planning now for managing ice and snow

All site managers have a responsibility to protect staff and visitors from accidents and risk. Education on the importance of, for example, suitable footwear and clothing is one step to keep them safe, as is placing warning signs in areas known to be affected by ice.

Using in-house personnel to keep thoroughfares and pathways clear comes at a cost and some risk to public and employer liabilities. Staff may not be adequately trained in how to work safely in wintry conditions, and in many cases work longer hours to incorporate the additional pressures of clearing pathways on top of their daily work duties – putting safety at greater risk.

It may sound obvious, but one of the simplest procedures for making sure you’re prepared for winter’s worst is close observation of weather forecasts. There are forecasts available which are more accurate, detailed and reliable than TV forecasts for our line of work.

Use the Met Office’s Open Road forecast, for example, to track weather changes and address susceptible areas. The road surface temperature forecast, for instance, is useful for assessing vulnerable surfaces across the UK and putting plans in place.

Remember that the weather can change, often suddenly and without warning. Combining alert systems with protection plans allows you to respond in a timely fashion to the changeable British weather.

Now is the time to review the characteristics of your estate and its vulnerabilities. For example, mezzanine car parks are especially prone to ice accumulation as the air temperature is often colder than that at ground level. Think of the frost on your car – it can form on your windscreen even if the ground around your tyres is clear.

Due to the heat sink, the ground retains heat from the summer and then gradually begins releasing it back into the atmosphere. For mezzanine areas above this warmer zone, any moisture on the surface will be more likely to freeze due to reduced heat retention.

Other areas that require special attention include walkways in constant use and metal-plated steps. Draw up an action plan so that you are ready to implement safety measures the moment bad weather is forecast.

It’s vital that you maintain adequate supplies of salt and ensure that your current stocks meet your site’s requirements, especially in areas where there is high footfall. Get into the habit of checking salt levels periodically.

Of course, there’s no point in having a full supply of grit if nobody can access it safely. Make sure your bins are in easy to reach locations, with sufficient provision for areas such as fire escapes and car parks. Your procedures should also take into account the availability of personnel and the best times to carry out gritting.

It’s important to note that there are different types of de-icing product. White Marine Salt, the industry-standard natural mineral for gritting, has its limitations, especially in deeper snowfall and extremely cold conditions. It can also be too corrosive for certain surfaces, such as those containing iron. However, the alternatives are often considerably more expensive – five to 15 times more in some cases – which makes them too costly to use across a
whole site.

A mistake many property owners make is gritting after ice or snow has already begun to form, rather than before. Grit is only preventative – it’s not a miracle cure.

Salt, when applied to the site prior to freezing conditions, essentially inhibits the formation of ice. Gritting surfaces already showing ice accumulation means the salt has to work much harder to react effectively and clear the ice. If snow falls, the salt already on the ground will inhibit some accumulations, or will aid snow removal by creating a saline barrier between the snow and the surface.

Ideally, all gritting should be carried out during the evening or overnight. This gives the salt a chance to work before people begin to arrive.

More often than not, the UK is well prepared for winter. Where we often struggle, however, is in reacting to extreme variations in our weather. As an island nation, we are at the mercy of the elements, and in particular the jet stream, which is at the heart of so much of our weather and its dramatic variations.

Locally, your site is just as susceptible. A sudden drop in temperature can result in standing water from thawed ice or, conversely, puddles freezing over. This is why it’s important to be prepared at all times.

About Sarah OBeirne

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