How to avoid slips, trips and falls in wintery weather

ducks on slippery ice

We’re smack bank in the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere, and there’s still a way to go. If you’re in the UK this is a hazy transition, and summer doesn’t really seem to have arrived until it’s already almost over. For facilities managers and business owners, this means a lengthy period of vigilance about the safety and accessibility, and how to ensure people can get into work in snow, sleet and ice.

While inclement weather can impact on people’s travel arrangements, the safety of the paths and thoroughfares around your business are of paramount importance. Despite the many common hazards which can cause slips, trips and falls in the winter, however, many businesses fail to accommodate for them. Here then are some easy tips to flag up and prevent problems around your facility, and protect people from the ravages of the winter weather.

 

Assess outdoor lighting

An under-appreciated aspect of preventing slips, trips and falls both inside and outside is proper lighting. With inadequate lighting, it becomes harder to identify potential hazards and act to avoid them. This is especially important outside, however; the winter months mean it’s particularly dark when employees arrive and leave, and outdoor lighting often needs to be more powerful and more targeted to illuminate open spaces.

Floodlights are a common solution, and many businesses may already have these installed for security purposes. They often operate on a sensor, however, which may not be appropriate for the wintery conditions. You don’t want the light to only activate after you’ve moved onto an icy path! Instead, you might consider lighting the paths themselves. LED bollards, uplighters or lamps are all attractive and economical ways to illuminate dark paths and keep people safe.

 

Clear paths regularly

It should scarcely need saying, but fallen leaves are among the biggest slips, trips and falls hazards. A common sight throughout the autumn and winter periods, decaying leaves can be slippery even before you add rain, snow and ice. They can also obscure other hazards on the path such as bumps and dips, increasing the risk of trips as well as slips.

Dealing with this hazard is as simple as carrying out proper maintenance, and making sure you clear the paths of any debris on a regular basis. In cold conditions, you can pair this up with your gritting routine, and kill two birds with one stone. You might also consider putting up a warning sign or fencing off areas where people commonly take shortcuts, which you might not reasonably expect to have to clean.

You might even consider replacing dropping trees around the premises with evergreens, eliminating the issue of leaves altogether. This will save you significant effort and manpower in the long run, but should only occur following an environmental impact assessment. You will also have to check that the tree isn’t in a conservation area, and doesn’t have an applicable Tree Preservation Order (TPO) from the local council.

 

Consider structural changes

Gritting is an obvious solution to ice around your premises, and generally an effective one. In areas where water tends to collect, however, it is likely to be less effective. Standing water can also freeze over multiple times even when there has not been rain or snow, making ice a more persistent issue through the winter.

As a result, it may be prudent to consider making structural repairs in order to improve your drainage. This may be as simple as adding individual drains, or a drainage channel alongside the path, but may also involve cutting or otherwise modifying the concrete or other material to improve runoff. If nearby grass is also waterlogged, you may need to install piped under-soil drainage. However, this work is best conducted when the soil is currently dry.

You should also consider whether the path itself is adequate for use during the winter months. Some materials are more prone to black ice than others, and many paths will lack any means of stabilising yourself in the event of a slip or trip. Handrails may be a useful investment, but should be part of a broader solution, rather than the only one.

 

Monitor local temperatures

One of the main lessons we teach throughout our safety training is that it’s important to be proactive, rather than reactive. This applies to every discipline, but is particularly important during the winter. By only taking action when a problem arises, you are greatly increasing the chance that someone will be hurt by the hazard, and can often make it harder to deal with.

The best way to be proactive about slips, trips and falls is simply to keep an eye on the weather. By finding a reliable source for local weather data, you can check the predicted temperatures for the next day and the next week, making both broad provisions and specific decisions before the weather strikes. This will allow you to do things like gritting paths before the ice or frost sets in overnight.

In a larger organisation and on a larger site, you may even wish to automate part of this process. Smart signage is now available which detects the local temperature and provides a specific warning to individuals nearby, which could either be customised to refer to the risk in that area, or a more generic warning. A building management system could also use sensors to monitor local temperatures, messaging maintenance staff automatically to respond to the issue.

 

Offer advice to employees

Telling employees about a risk or hazard isn’t enough to inoculate you if something goes wrong, but it does help. Proper signage will help to inform both staff and visitors about problem areas, although if you need these signs, something probably needs fixing! Otherwise, making sure all of your employees know about these hazards will at least allow them to watch out and minimise the chance of slips, trips and falls.

Depending on the nature of the risk and your site, you may also wish to equip your employees to deal with it. This could include some level of health & safety training to spot and report hazards more effectively, or even providing suitable footwear to prevent slips and trips. More simply, you may wish to advise that people wear shoes with good grip for the duration of the winter season. Follow all of this advice, and you should be well prepared for whatever this winter will throw at you.