By creating a robust winter maintenance plan office managers can ensure they meets their duty of care, achieve compliance, manage risk, meet insurer’s expectations and allow business continuity.
By ignoring the relevant health and safety legislation, you are at greater risk of legal action. An ad hoc service approach is no longer adequate and increases the risk of lost revenue, damaged reputation, accident liability claims or shut-downs.
Duty of care
In the United Kingdom, The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 talks about the duty of care but many managers do not realise this extends beyond staff to anyone visiting, or passing by the facility, including suppliers on company business and members of the public. All organisations must be able to demonstrate that they have done everything reasonably possible to meet their duty of care and that they have met all health and safety legislation.
Ideally, winter maintenance should be an all-year-round job. Late spring and early summer is the best time to review the winter maintenance plan and allocate budget to address jobs such as the possibility of burst pipes, the weight of snow on roofs and the ingress of water.
Issues with heating systems are likely to occur during the transition from autumn to winter when there is a surge from standby to maximum capacity which can result in breakdowns and service outages. Regular maintenance of HVAC systems should be carried out by qualified engineers to avoid catastrophic failures and down-time. It is a legal obligation for businesses to ensure that any heating appliance and installation pipework is maintained in a safe condition and boilers should also be inspected at least once a year.
Windows and doors account for significant heat loss in winter. Check for drafts, leaks and cracks that can allow heated air to escape. Frozen and burst pipes are the leading cause of property damage from winter weather. Just a small fracture can release many gallons of water, damaging masonry and plaster, carpets and other contents. Regular detailed examination of pipes, insulation and stop taps across the premises, with careful attention to temperature and water flow will help avoid cracks.
Keep on top of roofs
A thorough check of all roofing should be made for a build-up of water, ice, or snow that could compromise the roof’s structural integrity. Gutters and downspouts should divert roof drainage away from the building’s foundation as when these are clogged or incorrectly positioned, they have little or no effect. If gutters and downspouts are not well-maintained, blockages will occur, and the accumulation of water will eventually cause damage.
When the hours of darkness are increased, businesses must ensure that exterior lighting is programmed for the change so that the building, its visitors and occupants are kept safe.
Ensure access routes and car parks are safe from the risks of ice and snow for staff, visitors and contractors working onsite. Implement a gritting and snow service for entrances, walkways and car park areas. Ideally gritting should be done prior to ice formation or it will need to work harder on an already frozen surface, leaving a degree of risk present while the salt is taking effect. In winter, as employees and customers bring in ice and snow on their footwear, it is important to have absorbent mats in place and regularly clean entrances during the day so slip hazards from wet floors are avoided.
Trees and branches should be trimmed back to avoid any impact on roof integrity as dead trees and branches can become falling hazards during winter. Fallen leaves that become wet or have started to decay can create slip risks, hiding any hazard that may be on a path or by creating a slip risk themselves. Regular leaf removal procedures should be put in place as part of the winter maintenance plan. Clear leaves from pipes, gutters and drainage gullies as part of the leaf-clearing regime.
Creating a completely risk-free workplace is almost impossible. However, a ‘belt and braces’ approach to proactively managing the winter maintenance plan will minimise any risk to business. Identifying and tracking winter maintenance issues can be complex, especially for businesses that host vulnerable people and those with disabilities.
Consider whether such a specialist service can be delivered in-house or if it can actually be done better by an expert third party so any risk is mitigated as far as possible.