Don’t slip up when it comes to your winter gritting!

Don’t slip up when it comes to your winter gritting!

Winter maintenance firm GRITIT warns of the dangers of leaving your winter gritting to the last minute

Despite the relatively unremarkable summer the UK has experienced it is still easy to forget that all too soon the weather will turn and freezing temperatures will suddenly become a pressing issue. As we look ahead to this seasonal change, protecting people from the risks of slips and falls in icy conditions is an incredibly serious responsibility for FM. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports show that around five million days are lost each year through workplace injuries, costing the UK economy billions of pounds. Slips trips and falls account for over a third of employee injuries, making up more than half of all reported major/specified injuries and almost 29 per cent over-seven-day injuries. These are hair-raising stats, and the fact that more than 50 per cent of slips and trips occurred in the autumn/winter months demonstrates that adequate time has to be spent to anticipating and planning well ahead of these high risk seasons. This might seem obvious, yet astonishingly in BIFM research* indicates that almost a quarter of facilities managers said that they don’t have a winter maintenance plan in place – and of those that do, 26 per cent fail to review it annually.

So as an industry, many of us can and should do more, and there is no time like the present. Summer is a great time to start preparing your winter maintenance plans but ultimately winter maintenance should actually be an all-year-round job. Late spring and early summer were probably the ideal times to review your winter maintenance plan using up-to date information, and drawing on experience from the previous winter whilst it is still fresh, to resolve any issues, explore new initiatives and allocate budget to improve the plan going forward for the coming winter.

Meeting your Duty of Care and avoiding liabilities

So how ready should your organisation be? The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states that an employer has a Duty of Care to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees, including the provision of a safe working environment. This Duty of Care also extends beyond staff to anyone visiting, or passing by the facility, including suppliers on company business and members of the public.

As a result every organisation must be able to demonstrate that they have done everything reasonably possible to meet their Duty of Care. Any plan has to ensure compliance with all health and safety legislation and that effective steps have been taken to make sites safe for staff and customers during harsh winter weather.

Clearly, this is more than a administrative matter: Failing to get things right can have a major effect on any individuals that come to harm and also to an organisation’s reputation and its finances. There is also the risk of legal action. Over the past few years there has been an increase in litigation with ‘slipping on ice’ accidents having the potential for the most high value claims and compensation. According to the Hospital Episode Statistics for England, over 7,000 people were treated in hospital after slipping on snow or ice during the harsh winter weather of 2012/13. The less severe winter of 2014/15 still recorded 2919 falls that required a hospital visit. A proactive winter maintenance plan can help businesses to mitigate potential liability claims.

A winter maintenance plan

A robust winter maintenance plan, embedded into an organisation’s health and safety policy, can help to ensure that a business meets its Duty of Care, achieves compliance, manages risk, meets insurer’s expectations and achieves business continuity.

Your adverse weather policy should clearly communicate how your organisation will manage/take action in extreme weather situations. Key aspects of any effective plan include:

Use of a recognised health and safety management system such as OHSAS1800115 to ensure the plan is fit for purpose.

Clearly defined and communicated responsibilities – both on the ground and with a senior ‘champion’ to ensure high level management buy-in.

A process for documenting the proactive actions, incidents and investigations undertaken with records maintained and kept for a minimum of three years.

Ensuring the plan is based on detailed surveys to identify hazard areas and that action is undertaken according to real time accurate weather data and agreed action triggers for service.

Adequate resourcing with a dedicated trained team, sufficient and well-maintained PPE.

Clearly defined KPIs to measure performance against and a process to review the plan and any KPIs on a regular basis (at least bi-annually)

One of the most fundamental reasons that the UK seems to be lagging behind other countries in managing extreme weather is that preparedness costs money. Looking at the short-term cost implications of having a winter maintenance plan in place detracts from the risk of the even greater financial burden and loss of reputation, should a business be found to neglect their Duty of Care and the health and safety of their employees by failing to tackle winter risks.

Technology is making this easier

Beyond improved forecasting methods, a number of technological developments have helped provide a greater level of service guarantee from winter maintenance companies. The sector has gradually adopted technology and location intelligence that automates service activation and scheduling when zero ground temperatures are forecast. Mobile access to customer site plans and instructions on PDAs streamlines service delivery and reporting. One of the biggest advantages is better informed services through automatic notifications and real time information via portals and apps.

The importance of innovation and technology in continuing to improve FM service productivity and quality is difficult to understate. This is becoming more evident as the Internet of Things (IoT) and the concept of ‘Big Data’ and ‘Analytics’ continue to drive change. The IoT is well developed in Buildings Management where it is increasingly being adopted to help manage building environments more efficiently. In winter maintenance, just as in buildings management, technology is proving transformative by providing timely information to service staff to make better decisions and add more value.

The next generation of IoT for FM is smart sensors and drones that detect the condition of roads and pathways. It’s highly possible that greater access to intelligent use of more or ‘big data’ will not only activate more facilities services automatically, but control robots to play an active role in outdoor as well as indoor FM maintenance in the future. In winter maintenance, an example of this innovative new technology is gritting sensors. This hardware solution sends real-time data readings of relative road surface temperatures and precipitation direct to the gritting company’s network. Digital temperature sensors can be placed on any surface and are independently powered to provide live readings from a client’s site.

By offering a live feed of precise temperature conditions it is now possible to provide greater accuracy of forecasts and delivery and timing of servicing and thus avoid over-servicing when it’s not necessary.  This also offers an additional layer of security to a given site.

While technology like this offers greater sophistication to the FM, there is no substitute for effective human planning when it comes to the winter months. A carefully considered winter maintenance plan will be an essential part of your Health & Safety toolkit, ensuring the safety and productivity of everyone on site.

‘* BIFM winter preparedness survey 2015 and ‘Winter Maintenance Best Practice Guide’ in association with GRITIT. Updated edition September 2017.

GRITIT provide Award Winning Winter Gritting, Grounds Maintenance & Landscape Management, keeping sites operational and in pristine and safe condition all year around. Our investment in research, bespoke developments and continual use of new technology is transforming operations, communications and service quality within the FM landscape.


Don’t slip up when it comes to your winter gritting!