Last year might have been the warmest on record, but 2015 has brought us up sharp with reminder of just how bitter the weather can be in January. Temperatures have fallen as low as minus 13.7 degrees centigrade in Scotland, and most parts of the UK have seen at least a dusting of winter snow. More is forecast, which raises a hoary old question – do you clear an accumulation off the pavement in front of your house, or do you let sleeping flakes lie? Are you liable if someone slips and injures themselves – or any other passing elves – outside your property?
All clear for shovellers?Lord Freud, the health and safety minister, wants people across Britain do a good deed and clear snow from footpaths without worrying about getting sued. Presenting his analysis of the situation, Lord Freud said: “People need to be aware that they will not be reprimanded for doing a good deed by clearing ice and snow.” But why do people even think that clearing snow could lead to a court case?
Myth the pointIn past winters, media reports have claimed that health and safety regulations mean clearing snow at your home (or your neighbour’s) or outside your business could leave you at risk of litigation. Leave a footpath in a treacherous condition, the stories said, and you could be sued for any injuries due to people slipping, for example. So Lord Freud is worried that would-be good Samaritans might leave their shovels in the shed for fear their well-intentioned action could backfire on them.
Getting the driftAnd he is not the only one in the government speaking out to encourage people to clear snow if and when it comes in quantity. Judith Hackitt, chair of the Health and Safety Executive, no less, said: “Anyone can clear ice and snow from public spaces, so don’t be put off because you’re afraid someone will get injured. “Remember, people walking on snow and ice have a responsibility to themselves to be careful.”
Snow-go areasAs well busting misunderstandings about clearing snow, the government has put together a list of top tips to help you do it right. Now, we’re not suggesting for a moment that you need advice on how to clear snow, but here they are anyway…
- Do it promptly after the snow falls - it’ll easier to move when it’s fresh and loose.
- Don’t use water to wash snow away - it might refreeze and turn into black ice.
- Use salt if possible - it will melt the ice or snow and stop it from refreezing overnight (but don’t use salt from roadside salting bins as this is needed to keep roads clear).
- Use ash and sand if you don’t have enough salt - it will provide grip underfoot.
- Pay extra attention when clearing steps and steep pathways - using more salt may help.