As winter unfolds, there will soon be snow, frost and ice on the ground. What are the legal duties of local authorities, businesses and employers?
Let’s look first at the position of the local authority as it applies to pedestrians. The local authority in its capacity as the highway authority has a ‘duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice’. This does not mean that the local authority will be liable to a pedestrian injured as a result of a fall caused by snow or ice, whatever the circumstances - far from it. The local authority will have a defence to a claim for compensation by a pedestrian if it can show that it has acted in a reasonable and practicable way to meet the risk. There is no obligation on the part of a local authority to keep all roads and pavements clear all of the time. The law recognises that they don’t have the resources to do this. But they could be liable if, for example, they don’t have a policy in place to deal with snow and ice in a particular area, if that policy is inadequate or if they have such a policy in place and they then fail to implement it.
What then is the position with businesses? The occupier of business premises owes a duty of care to visitors and that duty is to take ‘reasonable care’ to ensure that the visitor to his premises is safe. The duty is particularly relevant to the owner of a business who is inviting customers onto his premises. Entrances and exits to business premises should be kept in a condition that is as safe as possible for the customer to use. Businesses should assess the risk of slips on ice, frost or snow, document the outcome of that assessment and put in place an effective system for managing that risk. They should also have procedures to prevent an icy surface forming, to keep pedestrians off the slippery surface, to use grit where appropriate and to warn pedestrians of the presence of ice. Prevention is key but they should also have insurance against possible claims!
Employers have the same duties as businesses to visitors to their premises, but in addition employers have duties to their employees. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 deal specifically with means of access to and egress from places of work and regulation 12 provides that ‘so far as is reasonably practicable, every floor in a workplace and the surface of every traffic route in a workplace shall be kept free from obstructions and from any article or substance which may cause a person to slip, trip or fall’. To comply with this duty an employer will need to have in place and to be seen to be implementing a system for dealing with snow, frost and ice. Documentary evidence showing that the risk has been assessed and how it is being managed will be required and in the case of an employer’s liability to his employees insurance is not just desirable but is compulsory!
Please contact Geoff Buck, Personal Injury Senior Associate on 01159 888 777 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.