Tungsten Ice Grabber FC91
If someone injures them self at work as a result of slipping on snow or ice, the employer or occupier may be liable under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and supporting regulations.
Perhaps the most pertinent provision relating to winter conditions is in the Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Regulation 12(3) stipulates that surfaces of floors and traffic routes in the workplace should, so far as is reasonably practicable, be free from any article or substance that may cause a person to slip, trip or fall.
The Approved Code of Practice that interprets this regulation states that: “arrangements should be made to minimise risks from snow and ice. This may involve gritting, snow clearing and closure of some routes, particularly outside stairs, ladders and walkways on roofs.”
What if the employee does not slip in the workplace? What if the employee slips on snow and ice in the course of their employment in the community for example postmen/women, care workers and refuse collectors? What duties does the employer have then?
In the first instance we should be clear about the responsibilities. It is the Highways Agency and local authorities that have responsibility for clearing public highways and pavements. They are under a duty to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice.
There is not however, an absolute duty on the local authority or highways agency to keep footpaths clear of snow and ice. The courts accept that no local authority could keep a pavement free from snow and ice at all times. As local authorities have limited resources, courts accept that they have to prioritise certain routes. Provided that the authority has a winter maintenance plan in place and they can provide evidence that they have taken steps to implement that plan, the courts tend to be sympathetic.
Even in cases where it has been established that the local authority failed to grit or salt a priority route in periods of extreme weather, if the authority argued their failure to grit was due to lack of resources (such as shortage of grit) then the courts may find that the local authority took all reasonable steps in the circumstances and therefore complied with their duty under the Act. In view of this, pedestrian slips-on-ice cases are extremely difficult.
However, if an employer expects his employees to work outside in the winter months, there will be occasions when the ground is covered in ice and snow. What safeguards should employers put in place for these workers to minimise the risk of their slipping and potentially serious injury?
In addition to statutory requirements, employers have a duty to take care of the health, safety and welfare of their employees. Employers have, for example, a duty to ensure that the workplace is safe and that appropriate protective clothing is provided. Employers have to consider what risks their employees may face and must carry out appropriate risk assessments.
Where an employee is working outside in the community, the risk of slipping on snow and ice in periods of inclement weather is foreseeable. To reduce the risk of slips on ice, frost or snow employers need to assess the risk and put in place a system to manage it.
The risk assessment should identify what the hazards are, identify who might be harmed and how, evaluate the risks, review the preventive and protective measures in place to control the risks and consider whether further action, if any, needs to be taken to reduce risk sufficiently.
In recent cases where an employee has slipped on ice or snow when at work, we have alleged the risk of slipping could have been removed or considerably reduced by the provision of Letz-U-Grip Snow and Ice Grips for Footwear BBICT.
Under Regulation 4(1) of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 every employer is under a duty to ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health and safety while at work, except where and to the extent that such risk has been adequately controlled by other means which are equally or more effective.
Shoe grips simply fit over existing shoes, effectively turning them into snow shoes. They are readily available for just a few pounds. We have argued snow/ice grips should be provided to all workers who are expected to work outside in ice and snow. The provision of grips is not expensive and would provide protection without major investment.
We have had success with these allegations and understand that one large local authority has ordered a number of snow/ice traction aids to help protect employees working outside
Notwithstanding the above, the crux of these claims is still what is reasonable. The concept of what steps an employer should reasonably take to safeguard the health and safety of their employees as opposed to what steps an employer has an absolute duty to take, allows employers to argue that the change isn’t practical or that the cost of provision of ice grips is too high in comparison to the risks involved.
Each case will be considered on its own merits, but the relatively low cost of grips compared with the serious injuries that can be suffered as a result of slipping on ice or snow should result in more and more employers ensuring that ice grips are made available.