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Winter Safety

Tips and advice on how to keep safe during cold and icy weather...

Our friends at RoSPA have put together some winter safety tips to keep you safe during the cold and icy weather...

Road safety

Winter driving

We need to adapt the way we drive during the winter and be prepared for journeys that may take us through very varied weather, road, and traffic conditions.

When we have prolonged periods of snow, we tend to see a fall in the overall number of road casualties because fewer people take to the roads. Of course, accidents still happen at these times, and weather conditions can play a part. In 2014, figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) show that 29 people were killed, 251 were seriously injured and 2,274 were slightly injured in reported road accidents on Great Britain's roads when there was snow or ice on the road surface.

RoSPA's Winter Driving Tips give advice about preparing your vehicle, preparing your journey, preparing yourself and driving in snow or ice, rain, fog, strong winds, and low sunshine. You can find additional help about preparing your vehicle in our vehicle checks video. If you're planning a long journey this winter (indeed, at any time of year), you might find RoSPA's Safer Journey Planner useful.

Knowing about the road conditions and weather forecasts should help inform whether and how journeys can be undertaken. Listen to local radio weather and traffic reports and also keep an eye on:

RoSPA supports the use of salt and grit on road surfaces as part of a pro-active and re-active winter maintenance programme if and when the temperature drops, or is expected to drop, below freezing point. However, it is recognised that it may prove impossible for all local authorities with highway responsibilities to ensure that all roads are treated on each occasion. Objective criteria must be adopted and employed to ensure that critical routes are dealt with as a priority, and so some subordinate roads may not be covered. Road gritting can be requested via the Directgov website.

Slips, trips, and falls

Slips, trips, and falls are the most common types of accidents in life generally, and thankfully, the consequences of many falls on snow or ice are simply minor bumps and bruises.

In previous years, however, thousands of people have been admitted to hospital after suffering more serious injuries after falls during wintry weather. Figures from the Hospital Episode Statistics for England show there were 2,919 admissions to hospital in 2014/15 as a result of people falling over on snow or ice.

During times when pavements and footpaths are covered in snow/ice:

  • Wear sturdy footwear, with a good grip - you can always change into other footwear when you have reached your destination
  • If you've got Nordic walking poles (or similar), use them
  • Take it slowly and allow yourself extra time to get from A to B, so you don't find yourself having to make a last-minute dash to get to the bus, etc.
  • Keep an eye on what is underfoot. Some places will remain icy for longer than others (e.g. places that do not get the sun)
  • If you have neighbours who are elderly/disabled/new mums etc. offer to pop to the shops for them
  • If councils have provided grit bins so people can treat public areas not included on the usual gritter route, use them - but don't remove vast quantities for your own personal use.

Remember - as well as slips and trips on pavements and in public places, many people fall over on their own footpaths and driveways. Take care in these places too.

Ice and snow advice for older people

The consequences of a fall can be more serious for older people. RoSPA has special tips for them to help avoid falling in slippery conditions:

  • Try to minimise the need to go out. Ask friends or neighbours to shop for you or take you to where you need to go
  • If you do decide to go out when there's snow and ice about, take time to think about what you can do to reduce the risk of a fall
  • Where possible, plan a safe route from your home to where you are going, so as to avoid slopes, steps, and areas that have not been cleared or gritted
  • Don't take short cuts through areas where the slipping hazards are greater
  • Ask a friend or neighbour to clear a safe path from your front door
  • Wear proper footwear for better traction on slippery surfaces. Consider fitting anti-slip crampons
  • Consider using a stick or better still, a walking pole, and take slow, small steps. Try not to hurry and give yourself more time to get from A to B so you do not rush
  • Use rails or other stable objects that you can hold on to
  • If possible, wear extra layers to protect the more vulnerable parts of your body like your head, neck, and spine if you do fall
  • Wipe your feet well when entering buildings
  • In public places, always report unsafe conditions so other people do not get hurt
  • RoSPA's older people's safety information and advice page has tips for what to do if you suffer a fall.

Clearing ice and snow at home and work

In recent years, it has been suggested that by not touching snow/ice you cannot be sued if someone slips over, and that trying to make conditions easier for pedestrians could leave you open to claims if someone subsequently has an accident.

RoSPA puts accident prevention ahead of fears about being sued if someone slips on a surface that has been cleared. Slips, trips, and falls are the most common types of accident in life generally and are clearly more prevalent when conditions are icy.

On business premises, there is a duty to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of those using your land.

In public areas (e.g. the pavement outside a shop/business/service), we would hope that shopkeepers/service providers, etc. would show public spirit and a wish to make access to their premises easier by clearing snow and ice. When open, they are inviting people to visit them, so we would hope that this would be reflected by the clearing of pavements.

When clearing snow/ice, there are two key points to remember:

  • You must not make conditions worse- creating a sheer icy surface by pouring boiling water over the pavement and then walking away is not an option
  • You must do a good job, and keep on top of the job (reacting to changing conditions). You'll probably have to tackle an area more than once.

The Gov.uk website has more advice about clearing snow and ice.

Members of the public must also remember that it is unrealistic to expect every stretch of pavement to be cleared and they should take their own reasonable precautions to avoid slipping or falling.

Water and leisure safety

Whenever the country is in the grip of freezing temperatures, RoSPA sadly hears about people losing their lives after falling through the ice and there are always many more near-misses. A RoSPA analysis of 20 frozen water deaths from recent years found that the victim had been attempting to rescue another person or a dog in more than half of the incidents. When a dog was involved, it was common for the pet to scramble out to safety when the owner did not. Other incidents involved children who had been playing on the ice.

RoSPA encourages people, particularly children, to get out and about to enjoy the wintry weather. Along with wrapping up well to keep warm and dry, it is important for all of us to be aware of the hazards of frozen water and the extremes of winter weather conditions. We encourage parents to talk to their children about the hazards of frozen water and what to do if they see someone fall through the ice. Although frozen water can look tempting, there's simply no way of knowing whether the ice will hold your weight and it's often too late by the time you find out that it won't.

Ice safety advice for the operators of sites that contain water and tips for what to do if someone falls through the ice are available on RoSPA's ice safety webpage.

RoSPA also has tips for sledging and also skiing and snowsports safety advice and information page.

All information courtesy of RoSPA 

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