• Lee Calver
  • 2 December 2014

Don’t allow winter weather to disrupt your business this year

You only have to type #winterweather into Twitter to realise just how much people love to talk about the climate and in particular the problems that arise because of the plummeting temperatures as we enter December.

Many of those tweets revolve around workers struggling with their commute due to the changing weather, while others offer sensible tips and guidance for those affected.

For example, ACAS’ Twitter account yesterday announced that during December it is going to be tweeting about #winterweather, commuting and getting to work when it's snowing.

I also discovered that it is still ‘like 80 degrees in Texas when it really should be #winterweather!’, that #winterweather was to blame for 3,000 delayed flights over Thanksgiving weekend, and that I desperately want to visit Seattle when it is snowing as the #winterweather pictures on Instagram are simply stunning!

The difficulties for organisations

Whatever your reason for discussing winter weather, be it on social media or with your colleagues, the attention that it receives indicates how important it is for all organisations to consider their policies as we move into the winter months.

Recent figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that, in 2013/14, over 50% of slips and trips in the UK occurred in the autumn/winter months and approximately half of these resulted in over seven days’ absence from work.

Whether it is flooding due to heavy rainfall, a scattering of snow or low temperatures leading to a frost, all forms of weather in the winter can have a huge effect on an organisation.

With weather forecasters already predicting heavy and persistent snow and sub-zero temperatures across the country, it is vital businesses act now to ensure they avoid any major issues in the coming months.

Even as far back as October we were being told to prepare for winter. De-ice, one of the UK’s longest-established and leading gritting and snow clearance specialists, informed us they had spent the last seven months preparing for Winter 2014-15 – with the aim of ensuring client sites remain safe and operational when exposed to harsh weather.

Vicky Lopez, Director at De-ice, said:

“If a hurricane was heading towards the UK, businesses would be battening down their hatches and preparing for the worst. We often question why companies leave winter planning to the last minute, or not at all.

“The ‘compensation culture’ society we live in, coupled with the increasing severe winter weather means we are likely to see increasing claims arising from people slipping on snow and ice in the winter months. Isn’t that a reason enough to put a plan in place? The potential cost of such claims range from a few thousands to millions of pounds, and that doesn’t include the potential for bad publicity and damage to reputation.”

As figures show us that more and more injuries are occurring in the winter months, and as Vicky Lopez explained we are likely to see increasing claims arising from people slipping on snow and ice, companies can no longer afford to do nothing. Those that fail to put a bespoke winter management plan in place are simply running the risk of heavy financial penalties, loss of reputation, and prolonged down-time.

How do others deal with it?

While local authorities in the UK are responsible for gritting and salting public roads and pavements, in some parts of the world, the public is expected to help keep the streets clear of snow. In Minneapolis for example, it is your legal duty.

The rules state that snow must be removed from pavements outside homes within 24 hours of snowfall ending. If the public works department receives a complaint or discovers that a pavement is not sufficiently cleared, it gives the property owner a final chance to do it. However, if the pavement still has not been cleared upon re-inspection, city crews will do the job and the home owner will be sent the bill. Research recently published shows that $130,000 was charged to Minneapolis property owners last winter.

In Germany, Austria and Switzerland there are also strict regulations. Many German towns have a “street cleaning statute” and snow-shovelling requirements are listed in great detail, even down to the minimum width of the cleared area (70 to 120 cm) and the time during which you must keep snow cleared away (from 7a.m. until 8p.m. on weekdays) – even if it continues to snow! Most of the regulations also specify where you can put the snow you have shovelled. You aren’t allowed to simply pile it in the street, for instance. The details may vary slightly from place to place, but the bottom line is that if you don’t comply with the local snow removal requirements, and someone slips and falls in front of your house or apartment, you could be on the losing end of a law suit.

Road safety

As the weather worsens, roads start to deteriorate and with that comes the danger of road accidents.

Statistics show that there are around 200 deaths and serious injuries every week caused by work-related driving incidents, while one in three road crashes involves a vehicle being driven for work.

Driving is by far one of the most dangerous activities that workers undertake on a daily basis and therefore it is imperative that firms take the time to discuss driving safely, especially in the winter months. Road Safety Week took place in November and organisers of the event, road safety charity, Brake, urged organisations to review their business strategy and invest resource in maintaining the safety of their facilities, fleet and staff to reduce the risk of winter weather driving incidents.

Commenting during Road Safety Week, Fundraising Officer at Brake, Joe Burns, stated:

“Facilities managers can make a real contribution towards raising employee awareness of road safety and ingraining road safety at the organisation’s top level. We can go a long way to achieving our goal of putting an end to road deaths and injuries if we all engage to promote a safe driving culture.

“This Road Safety Week we called on all road users to ‘Look out for each other’, from facilities managers ensuring staff know the risks and are adequately prepared for winter driving to anyone who uses our roads.”

A flexible workforce

With many roads blocked due to traffic jams, closed because of adverse weather and some simply too dangerous to drive on due to ice or snow during the winter months, businesses must be prepared for workers being unable to make it into the office.

An employee out of the office does not have to mean an employee out of action though. Studies suggest that home workers are more efficient than office-based workers anyway, and they will certainly be more productive working from home than being stuck in traffic. Once workers finally arrive to the office, you can also guarantee that a considerable amount of time will be spent complaining to colleagues about their disastrous morning and how they wish they could’ve just worked from home!

As long as your organisation ensures the right rules and technology is in place, there is no reason why offering flexible working to your workforce during the winter months won’t only just work for you, but also benefit your business greatly.

Communication and pre-planning is also key to ensure everything runs smoothly. Keep in touch with your workforce throughout the course of bad weather and make sure they feel involved. In addition, you and your staff should plan ahead. When the weather forecasters predict treacherous conditions, start discussions now around what employees should do if they can’t make it out of their street. How they should let you know if they are unable to make it into work? Have all members of staff got systems in place to be able to complete a day’s work even if they cannot travel to the office?

What next?

While across the globe there are various rules and regulations relating to clearing snow and dealing with winter weather, one thing remains constant – every organisation wants to ensure their workforce is both safe and productive whatever the weather!

What every organisation must remember is that preparation, planning and communication with your workforce is crucial if you are to survive the winter with as little disruption to your business as possible.