Slip and fall law suits increase exponentially in winter, where icy surfaces increase hazards and snow may not have been cleared. As a business, you are required to keep areas such as aisles, stairs, walkways, car parks, and other parts of the premises reasonably safe for clients and employees.
Legal Liability in Winter
Your legal liability depends on whether the danger was foreseeable, the business owner’s conduct was in line with acceptable standards of practice and the ease with which it could have been prevented. Unfortunately, the simplicity of winter maintenance and the fact that seasonal weather changes are largely predictable mean that many of these cases are successful. In 2013, A&E visits doubled to some hospitals as people struggled to navigate poorly gritted or unclear roads.
Preparation is Key
Jay Hancocks, Contract Director at Ground Control – one of the UK’s largest Winter Maintenance companies, explained that preparation is key to maintaining safe business premises through the winter. “Unfortunately, a lot of SMEs only start thinking about winter maintenance when snow is actually on the ground. We can help out, but it’s really better to plan in advance to ensure you can get your premises and access cleared as soon as possible.”
“Despite the milder winter last year, we’re seeing a real increase in businesses taking out contracts for maintenance. That’s because they’re becoming more aware of the dangers of not preparing, or it may simply be because they’ve lost a lot of business days in previous years and want to make sure they can keep trading.”
Pay as you go contracts are also contributing to this trend, where businesses can spend as much as they need to rather than paying for maintenance which may not be necessary.
Minimising the Impact of Winter on Your Business
In 2013, the snow cost the UK economy a reported £500m per day as the infrastructure couldn’t cope with snow and ice. The Office of National Statistics estimated that it caused the economy to contract by 0.5%. While the impact on the wider economy has been huge, small businesses tend to feel the brunt of the impact with less financial resources to fall back on and no other premises to make up for the shortfall in one area.
Stop at Your Business Boundaries
While it is in your business’ interest to make sure that people can enter and exit your premises safely, it’s important that you stop at the boundaries of your business instead of gritting the public highway leading up to it. The local council have an obligation to maintain these highways, and if you take the initiative to clear these areas you may be held accountable if somebody is injured.
This warning has been given by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health in guidance to its members. The guidance states, “When clearing snow and ice, it is probably worth stopping at the boundaries of the property under your control.”
“[Clearing a public path] can lead to an action for damages against the company.”
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and numerous MPs have expressed their disappointment that genuine safety concerns are being ignored because of litigation fears.
Make Your Premises as Comfortable as Possible
Depending on the size of your premises, you may want to provide an area to store umbrellas and offer larger door mats so that people can dry off their footwear and leave wet items by the door while they browse.
Best practice guidelines suggest leaving doors open to make your premises more inviting, but in winter your employees and visitors are more likely to appreciate a warm, draught-free area rather than open doors!
Many premises also offer seasonal drinks such as mulled wine or just some hot chocolate to tempt in shoppers, which is often popular but should be offered with discretion if you do not have the appropriate permits.
This sponsored post was provided by Ground Control.