Shrewsbury health & safety expert discusses the dangers of freezing temperatures
27th January 2015
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Whenever the country is in the grip of freezing temperatures, we sadly hear about people losing their lives after falling through the ice and there are always many more near-misses.  

An analysis of 20 frozen water deaths from recent years found that the victim had been attempting to rescue another person or a dog in more than half of the incidents.  When a dog was involved, it was common for the pet to scramble out to safety when the owner did not.  Other incidents involved children who had been playing on the ice.

Children need to get out and about to enjoy the wintry weather but  along with wrapping up well to keep warm and dry, it is important for everyone to be aware of the hazards of frozen waters and the hazards of extreme winter weather conditions.

Parents should talk to their children about the hazards of frozen water and what to do if they see someone fall through the ice.  Although frozen water can look tempting, there's simply no way of knowing whether the ice will hold your weight and it's often too late by the time you find out that it won't.

You should take care around the edges of lakes and rivers because snow can obscure them, and ensure that dogs are kept on a lead so they do not run out on to the ice.  Finally, avoid throwing sticks or balls on to the ice for dogs to retrieve.  

Last year a member of the public contacted us expressing concern with regards to snow and ice on his drive at his property.  Many people believe that by not touching snow/ice you cannot be sued if someone slips over, and that trying to make conditions easier for pedestrians could leave you open to claims if someone subsequently has an accident.  The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) puts accident prevention ahead of fears about being sued if someone slips on a surface that has been cleared.  

On business premises, there is a duty to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of those using your land.

In public areas (e.g. the pavement outside a shop/business/service), we would hope that shopkeepers/service providers etc. would show public spirit and a wish to make access to their premises easier by clearing snow and ice.  When open, they are inviting people to visit them, so we would hope that this would be reflected by the clearing of pavements.

When clearing snow/ice, the below are key points to remember:

  • You must not make conditions worse e.g. creating a sheer icy surface by pouring boiling water over the pavement and then walking away is not an option
  • You must do a good job, and keep on top of the job (reacting to changing conditions).  You'll probably have to tackle an area more than once.

Members of the public must also remember that it is unrealistic to expect every stretch of pavement to be cleared and they should take their own reasonable precautions to avoid slipping or falling.

With just a few sensible measures, we can all stay safe and have fun outside this winter.

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