Scottish winters are well known for their harsh conditions. The dark nights combined with ice, snow and heavy rain can make working conditions challenging, but what effect do they have on an organisation's health and safety obligations?
Obligations - The Health & Safety at Work Etc Act 1974
Under the act, an employer has a duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of all employees. However, this duty also extends to self-employed workers, independent contractors and members of the public therefore the duty is wide ranging and can affect a large number of people.
Under the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999, an employer has a duty to make "suitable and sufficient" assessment of the risks at work and to identify measures to manage those risks. For some businesses, particularly those who require employees to work outside and in rural areas, these assessments may differ depending on the time of year. Separate risk assessments may be required to deal specifically with working in adverse winter conditions.
Personal Protective Equipment
Under the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992, employers have a duty to ensure that suitable personal protective equipment is provided to employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health and safety at work. The equipment required may differ from summer to winter and this should be kept under regular assessment. For example, depending on where an employee requires to work, employees may require to be provided with gloves, hats, boots in order to safely carry out their duties.
The duties above are not absolute and what risk assessments a business has in place and what steps have been taken to prevent accidents, can determine whether or not any liability will attach to an organisation in the event of a claim.
Case of Jenna Sharp v Scottish Ministers 2019 SC EDIN 92
A recent example of this can be found in the case of Jenna Sharp v Scottish Ministers 2019 SC EDIN 92. Ms Sharp was employed as a support worked by Ailsa Response. She required to work in a prison which was owned and operated by the Scottish Ministers. Ms Sharp slipped on ice in the prison's car park and sustained injury. She raised a court action against the Scottish Ministers on the basis that they had a duty to keep the car park free of ice. However, her claim failed as the Scottish Ministers had a specific winter maintenance system in place which dealt with de-icing of the car park. This was implemented and documented on the day of Ms Sharp's accident. The car park had been gritted earlier that morning. The Sheriff decided that the Scottish Ministers had done everything that they could have done by instigating their winter maintenance system and had taken sufficient precautions against the risk of injury.
This case highlights that although all accidents cannot be avoided, provided an organisation has in place ( and implemented) sufficient risk assessments, the risk of liability attaching in the event of a claim is significantly reduced.