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Gearing up for winter

Author : Steve Webb, GRITIT commercial director

18 October 2016

When we’re trying to hang onto the last remnants of summer, preparing for winter can be the last thing on our mind.

Following the mild winters of the last two years, it is easy to become complacent with our winter maintenance plans, and just as easy to forget that the UK can be struck by severe weather conditions, sometimes as low as -20°C.

However, to ensure a successful winter maintenance plan, a proactive approach must be taken and planning for the next few months is essential.

Many organisations see gritting and snow clearance as a seasonal add-on to the usual day-to-day operations, something that can be carried out by the in-house site management team on a reactive basis, without any additional training.

However, as building managers aim increasingly to contribute to the organisation’s overall strategy and risk management, this ad-hoc approach to winter maintenance is no longer adequate to support business confidence and continuity.

The risk of slips, trips and falls is a very serious and costly issue for businesses of all sizes in all sectors.

According to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974: ‘It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.’

This includes a legal requirement to provide a healthy and safe working environment to staff, and extends to cover visitors to the company and even people passing by.

During the winter months, slips trips and falls account for around 50 per cent of recorded workplace injury.

Last year the Ministry of Justice was fined nearly half a million pounds as a result of a claim made by a former prison officer who had slipped on ice due to a lack of gritting.

By ensuring a proactive service, through a winter maintenance plan, property managers can meet their Duty of Care; provide compliance assurance; support business continuity; and manage risk and insurer’s expectations.

However, in 2015 the BIFM winter preparedness survey revealed that almost a quarter of facilities managers didn’t have a winter maintenance plan in place and of the three quarters that did, 26 per cent failed to review it annually.

The key elements of a winter maintenance plan should include:
• defining roles and responsibilities
• allocating resources, including a dedicated team and PPE
• performing detailed, bespoke site surveys which identify potentially hazardous areas
• assigning a senior ‘champion’ of the plan to ensure buy-in
• basing the plan around real-time and accurate weather data
• documenting activity such as planning, service delivery and investigations
• maintaining records that show the plan has been followed (keeping these for a minimum of three years)
• communicating the plan to everyone, from staff to visitors and the company’s insurer
• measuring the plan against KPIs and reviewing it on a regular basis
• ensuring that the plan is simple, clearly understood, and easily delegated and disseminated.

Facilities managers should also ensure that the plan is robust through a recognised health and safety management system, such as the OHSAS 18001.

The FM’s role in maintaining organisational resilience to extreme weather is vital. The harsh winter of 2012/13, when salt shortages led to airports and public transport grinding to a halt, caught many by surprise.

Businesses struggled to remain operational, while meeting their Duty of Care, making an unexpectedly large hole in some budgets.

An increase in variable winter weather could have major operational and financial consequences, alongside health and safety and reputational risk, for organisations that fail to put a bespoke winter management plan in place and simply react to the weather conditions.

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