Last Saturday, amidst a spontaneous snow storm, I was amazed as to how long it took me to get home. A trip that would normally take 30 minutes took almost three and a half hours. It may seem absurd, but unfortunately it seems that as soon as the white stuff lands, the entire infrastructure breaks down.
Is this normal? Do the people in Finland cease to operate for the entire winter? Of course not… This is just one peculiarity that makes life in the UK so unique.
One of my thoughts, as I trekked home that night was the number of likely slips and falls among the public at large. In particular if anyone being so unfortunate would know what to do with regards recourse, including employees who were also out that night earning a living.
One would have thought that the best way of avoiding such slips would be for the government to distribute (in advance) grit on each and every road. The government’s answer to this is that the cost is so immense that the public purse would suffer hugely. Given the current economic climate and of course, if you are not the one who has fallen, one could sympathise…
Most local authorities currently grit around 40% of the main local roads. This in theory means it could cost the government over £1.5 million to grit an estimated 96,000 miles of roads in England.
Adverse weather conditions always bring in a raft of enquiries at the firm, from people suffering injuries after a fall on untreated paths and public places. Most of these claims are directed against owners of private land, employers and local authorities.
This seasonal increase following the slips and falls from adverse weather means that all employers and owners of property have an increased duty of care. They must be astute / alert to ensure their premises and work places are safe.
If a proper risk assessment has not been taken, as we say in law ‘let the owner beware’. If you are an owner of a private business, it is important that you now urgently review your risk assessments. The adverse weather change means you should be aware that there is a higher than normal chance of claims being made by people just outside your premises or even within it should snow or ice accumulate in passageways.
If you are an owner of private land, it is not necessary to clear snow or ice from the highway, which is outside your land, even if part of a local authority highway or road or pavement goes over some of your land. If you decide to shovel snow into a public path (assuming a person claiming knows you have taken such steps) and someone is injured, you may find yourself liable in negligence or nuisance. It is regarded as a public nuisance if you jam up the pavement in front of your property by brushing away the snow accumulations from your property on to a public highway.
The local authority on the other hand does have more responsibility.
It took the case of Goodes v. East Sussex County Council  1 WLR 1356, to bring in some clarification of the law. In this case “Goodes” held that section 41 of the Highways Act did not include a duty to prevent or remove the formation of ice and snow. However, as the law was not clear, the law-makers decided to insert Section 41(1A) into the Highways Act, following on from the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003. The local authority is therefore responsible for clearing ice and snow from the public highway and pavement and to ensure that a safe route along the highway is not put in danger by snow or ice.
However, due to tight budgets, the local authority, can and do prioritise the roads and pavements which they consider should be cleared first. If you are considering a claim of this type please note, the local authority will generally rely on a standard defence that they are not liable, especially where they can show they have prioritised. It will be up to the individual making a claim to prove any negligence.
Thankfully, given the reduced volume of snow in England there have not been any further cases so it is difficult to assess which way the courts would rule in similar scenario’s, but is certainly worth consideration.
If you are an employer, you need to be on alert. You should make sure that you have a system in place for removing risks by clearing any snow and ice particularly from entrances and exits. You must also make sure that you prevent it from becoming slippery again. In short, get your gritting systems sorted out if you haven’t done so already (!).
If you feel that there is a risk to your workers you may be best advised to go back to basics with a shovel and clear the path way of snow / ice. Make sure that the landing and stairs are also clear. The law is likely to otherwise find if your employee walks or passes regularly to access the work place that this is also treated as a part of the work place. Further information on health and safety guidelines may be seen at http://news.hse.gov.uk/2007/01/24/slips-and-trips-in-icy-conditions/
Whilst some dream of snow, by the time you know it people are at risk of being injured. Unless appropriate systems are in place, it is going to be the local authority, the owner or employers insurers who foot the bill.
Ignore the regulations and you do so at your peril!
We live in a litigious society, in a recession and so for this reason, check your household liability insurance for coverage to include injuries to members of the public using your personal footpath.
Clear away the white stuff as soon as and as quickly as possible during the day or prepare in advance at night time if you know of the weather warnings. A refusal or failure to follow what can be termed as this “ice code” may mean that you could end up personally picking up the tab for any slips.
Head of Personal Injury
Photo Credit: Kevin