Clearing Snow & Ice In Public Spaces and Avoid Legal Action

Over the past few winters there has been a lot of controversy around what you can and can’t do regarding clearing snow and ice in public spaces – therefore I want to set the record straight the best I can in preparation for the fast approaching winter months.

With slip and trip accidents increasing during the Autumn and Winter seasons for a number of reasons, people in the UK want to do what they can to prevent this – only to be told they could be sued for clearing snow or ice from the pathway surrounding their homes or workplace.

This controversy started in the winter of 2010 when major newspapers such as the Telegraph made headlines saying “Health and Safety experts warn: don’t clear icy pavements, you could get sued”.  These stories came about whilst Britain was in the middle of its coldest winter for nearly half a century.

As current legislation stands (and stood in 2010), the Workplace Health Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992, Reg 12 state, “It is practical that every floor in a workplace and every traffic route in a workplace shall be kept free from obstruction and any article or substance which may cause a person to slip, trip or fall”. Yet in 2010, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, which guide businesses throughout the country stated, “When clearing snow and ice, it is probably worth stopping at the boundaries of the property under your control”.

gritting

Councils, who have a responsibility for public highways, say they have no legal obligation to clear pavements. And for householders and companies that try to clear a public pavement outside their property, risk opening themselves up to the possibility of legal action being taken against them. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accident’s expressed their disappointment with these headlines in 2010, as they said, “This is not showing a particularly good attitude. It would be much safer for the public to clear paths, even if it’s not on their property”.

These headlines and government bodies gave UK residents a choice of risking legal action or risking their own and other peoples safety.

Recently the government have attempted to clear up this dispute and along with a list of the roads and pavements that will be gritted by the council, they have said that it is “unlikely” you’ll be sued or held responsible if someone is injured on a path, if you’ve cleared it carefully. Further to this they have provided detail on how to clear snow and ice safely and avoid legal action;

  • Clear the snow early in the day – it’s easier to move fresh, loose snow
  • Don’t use water – it might refreeze and turn to black ice
  • Use salt if possible – it will melt the ice or snow and stop it from refreezing overnight
  • Ash and sand can used if salt is unavailable – this will provide grip underfoot
  • Extra attention being paid when clearing steps and steep pathways – extra salt may be required

With UK weather being unpredictable and receiving on average 23.7 days of snow or sleet per year, it is important that people can clear pathways without the risk of legal action.