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Snow and Ice in the Workplace – The Pitfalls for Employers

The Winter months bring a lot of snow and ice to much of Scotland and employers need to be aware of the pitfalls that adverse weather conditions can bring.

Employers have a duty to ensure that the surface of every traffic route on their premises, whether that be roads or pavements, is suitable for the purpose for which it is used and does not expose their employees to the risk of slipping.

That means that an employer has to ensure that during the winter months, any forecasts of snow or ice are actioned and traffic routes are gritted appropriately. If an employee slips and falls on snow or ice to their injury, and the employer has failed to grit the route effectively or at all, they could face a costly damages claim.

For employees carrying out the gritting, employers must ensure they are equipped with the appropriate personal protective equipment so that they can carry out the job safely.

Scottish Legal Cases involving Ice in the Workplace

McKeown v Inverclyde Council [2013] CSOH 141 – Decision in favour of the employee

A school janitor was awarded £30,000 damages from his local authority employer when he slipped on ice on the top step of a fire escape whilst collecting litter during the morning break.

The janitor was asked to cover for the permanent janitor at a neighbouring school and carried out duties which included the gritting of snow and ice on the school premises. He was not made aware of the school’s procedure but proceeded as he would usually do, which was to grit the pavements and playgrounds around the school building and then cover other areas including fire exits.

The janitor’s claim was based on the allegation that the employer had failed to ensure that all traffic routes were free from risks of slipping.

At the Hearing at the Court of Session, the Judge held that it was reasonably practicable to keep the fire escape free from ice. He also held that the employer was in breach of their duty to keep traffic routes free from risks of slipping. He concluded that although the school had implemented a system to grit traffic routes, the fire exits were not treated as a priority but they should have been due to the fact that they are safety routes. Further, the Judge also pointed out that the employer should have instructed janitors to use a scoop to spread the grit which would have increased the chances of the salt being spread over the whole steps.

The judge held that no contributory negligence would apply because the janitor could not be held responsible in any way for the accident. He had to apply the salt using his own system having received no instruction or training from his employer. He was also under some pressure of time and therefore it was understandable that a step could have been missed.

Kennedy v Cordia (Services) LLP [2014] CSIH 76 – Decision in favour of the employer

The employers of a home carer were not liable for injuries caused by a fall on ice during the course of her employment.

The employee slipped on ice, on a public path in Glasgow, whilst visiting an elderly person during the course of her employment as a personal carer.

Her case alleged that there was no risk assessment that covered snow and ice; no provision of personal and protective equipment; no guidance as to what suitable footwear should be worn and any training given was inadequate.

The Court held that the there was no breach of duty as Regulations did not impose on the employers a duty to provide the employee with personal protective equipment aimed at reducing the risk of her slipping on snow and ice where the risk was not materially different from that to which any member of the public was exposed.

The slip did not occur, in the Judge’s opinion, “at work”. The employers did not have a responsibility to determine what “competent adult employees” should wear on their feet when walking the streets of the city – despite the walk having taken place during the course of employment.

Please note the employee is currently appealing this decision.

This case raises an interesting question on the scope of an employer’s duty when “work” is not carried out in the immediate vicinity of the employer’s premises.

Helpful Tips for Employers

The Health and Safety Executive provides a number of helpful tips for employers faced with ice and snow on their premises. Those include:

  • Assess the risk of slips on snow and ice and put a system in place to manage it.
  • Identify outdoor areas used by pedestrians that are likely to be affected by snow and ice.
  • Take action when freezing temperatures are forecast
    • Use rock salt to grit traffic routes – the best time to do so is early in the evening and morning
  • Put a procedure in place to prevent icy surfaces from forming:
    • Use grit
    • Cover walkways
    • Divert pedestrians via safer routes


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