Are we going to have another harsh winter?
The severity of the last couple of winters will have prompted schools to carry out some weather event planning and checking of business continuity arrangements in order to be ready for any unusual weather conditions. The winter season presents an increased risk of issues ranging from burst pipes and snow and ice problems, to keeping the school open and safe in a winter environment.
Not only are there physical hazards to property and people, there are also issues such as access to work/school that emerge as routes are restricted by adverse weather. The cold weather can provide additional challenges to schools, staff and pupils and can affect the ability of a school to provide services, and maintain the safety of employees, contractors and the public.
Interestingly, the increased severity of last year’s winter (2010/11) actually saw a reduction in the number of winter-related claims made to Zurich Municipal. This can be attributed to various reasons. The harsher weather actually meant that people did not carry out non-essential travel or couldn’t travel during affected periods. Also, as people and organisations had recently experienced the problems associated with cold weather during the previous winter, there was generally better awareness and preparedness for the situation.
A few thoughts on Winter Preparedness
Do you have a winter / adverse weather plan in place?
It is important that schools have a plan in place to deal with the issues associated with bad weather. Good guidance, communicated effectively to all pupils, parents and staff mitigates the number and severity of accidents, and the effect on people, vehicles, goods and the wider community.
Where does responsibility lie when it snows?
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Occupiers Liability Act placed responsibility on an employer to maintain access to premises in a safe condition. Therefore it is sensible to have a plan for this event.
- Effective snow and ice clearance is essential.
- An occupier can be held liable for ‘failing to act reasonably’ to prevent accidents.
- Identify and allocate who clears and grits paths and car parks.
- Appropriate protective equipment should be provided and used.
If a claim is made, the key to any defence will be the ability of the school to demonstrate the winter weather policy, safety measures, inspection records, gritting plans, and alternative routes offered.
Schools driving plans
Schools should have a clear severe weather travel plan that is communicated to all employees and contractors.
- Any organisation requiring their employees to drive in their role should have a driving policy and the means to show it can be enforced.
- Schools should assess added winter risks and consider travel restrictions in severe weather.
- Risk assessments for any work-related driving activity should be vehicle and driver specific where possible.
- Emergency kits should be provided: high-visibility vests, torches, bottled water, and blankets.
For further advice the following are recommended:
- For the Cold Weather Plan, go to Publications at www.dh.gov.uk
- Zurich’s severe weather site www.zurich.co.uk/severeweather/winteradvice/winterweather.htm
Schools Insurance Manager