In November 2010 we experienced the earliest widespread fall of snow in the UK since 1993. Despite dire warnings about an early winter, this year has been surprisingly mild in the south of the country. However, after two years of winter chaos, planning is essential for what could be another bad winter.

Last year, ‘health and safety’ once more became the excuse for virtually every decision and a lot of misinformation was perpetuated. As a result, a lot of good information is now available to help people manage their responsibilities. Here are some FAQs:

Is it true that I can be sued if I clear the snow from outside my premises and someone falls?

There is no law stopping you from clearing snow and ice from the pavements outside your home or from public spaces. The important thing is to do it carefully, and to remember that people walking on snow and ice have a responsibility to be careful too. The government has published a snow code, the details of which can be found at:

The main points to note are:

  • Clear the snow or ice early in the day
  • Use salt or sand – not hot water
  • Pay extra attention to steps or steep pathways
  • Take care where you are moving the snow to
  • Offer to clear your neighbours’ path if they are elderly or disabled

What do I need to do if I have to drive in snowy conditions?

Driving in severe winter weather can be challenging. If you drive for work, even if it’s your own car, you have a responsibility to make sure it is safe to drive and it’s worth keeping on top of things routinely.  Before you leave check:

  • Tyres – make sure they are inflated correctly and that you have a minimum of 3 mm tread
  • Battery – it will run down quicker than in warmer weather, so make sure you do regular long journeys to top it up, or put it on trickle-charge
  • Engine – even with modern cars, depress the clutch when starting to reduce the drag on the engine and help preserve the battery
  • Screen wash – keep the screen wash topped-up and use a recommended concentrate to prevent it freezing
  • Fuel – keep your tank topped up. If you get stuck in snow and need to keep the engine ticking over to keep warm, make sure that snow isn’t blocking the exhaust, as noxious fumes can leak into the vehicle
  • Windows – clear all snow and ice from the windscreen, lights and number plate before driving. Do not use hot water as it could crack the glass, re-freeze or create an ice patch on the ground
  • Locks – squirt some WD-40 on the locks to prevent them freezing up
  • Emergency snow kit – pack a warm coat, hat, gloves, sturdy boots and blanket. Take some food, chocolate, biscuits, water and a hot drink if you can, and always carry a fully charged mobile, some old bits of carpet or some cat litter to put under the tyres and a shovel to clear the snow.

For more information take a look at the AA website:

As an employer what can I do if I think that staff are using the snow as an excuse not to come in to work?

This is where H&S and HR law overlap. From a H&S perspective you need to risk assess the situation in the same way as you would any other function. Employers have a duty of care to their employees and are potentially liable if they put pressure on their staff to travel by car or foot when conditions are dangerous. If authorities are telling people to stay at home unless their journey is essential then it is wise to look at alternative arrangements, such as working from home during the immediate emergency. As weather and transport links improve so that staff could get to work, then clear and consistent policies need to be communicated to staff. Options could be: taking a day’s leave as part of the holiday entitlement, deduction of salary or unpaid leave, and if you really feel that a member of staff is swinging the lead, then you may need to threaten disciplinary procedures.