The cold days and dark nights are setting in yet retailers want to stay open to maximise revenue from the festive season. What should you be doing to keep your customers and staff safe?

Here are a few timely reminders:

The law

  • Under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 you owe a duty to all those invited onto your premises (your customers). You must keep them and their property ‘reasonably safe’.
  • Since the implementation of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, strict liability no longer applies, but employers must be able to demonstrate that they have not been negligent. Documentation, being risk assessments and witness statements, therefore becomes very important in defending a claim. You should ensure that both external and internal areas are as safe as is reasonably practicable from weather-related risks. Both areas should be risk assessed and it is advisable to have a generic ‘adverse weather policy’ (AWP) with more specific internal and external analysis, tailored to the store or stores, and taking into account issues of construction, disability, demographic and business use.

Inside

  • The risk assessment should stipulate control measures that have been put in place to safeguard or minimise the risk of incidents. Risk within the store of slipping (caused by ice or water) on a wet internal floor should correlate with the implementation of practical control measures:
    • canopies at entrances, where possible ;
    • integral matting at entrances;
    • regular cleaning of entrances;
    • diversion of pedestrians to other entrances; and
    • use of high visibility wet floor signs.

Storage for umbrellas or other items that can bring water into the store should also be considered.

  • Each listed control measure should stipulate responsibility and actively promote accountability. You should ensure that accurate documents detailing the name, signature, time and date are kept for each measure undertaken and are stored safely, so that they are readily available for inspection at a later date. Detailed records are essential to defending any claim and completing these should also prevent many from ever happening in the first place.

Outside

  • The AWP should include information such as a gritting guide identifying where, when, how and by whom external areas should be gritted. Contractors must be held to the same standards.
  • There should be reference to preventative measures with follow-through, such as local weather forecast monitoring so that action can be taken in advance of very cold weather or wet conditions. Not knowing, or statements like ‘it was worse than we thought’, work against a good systems-based defence, given the level of information now available.
  • Car parks and walkways need to be ‘reasonably’ free of ice and snow. Prevention is better than cure and well-defined, easily understood systems not only reduce the risk of an accident but enhance the prospects of a systems-based defence. The AWP should give specific consideration to priority areas such as disabled/parent and baby areas, pedestrian access, car park entrances, delivery bays and petrol stations.
  • In addition to people slipping due to snow, ice or rain you must consider your delivery drivers. You must ensure that they are provided with a copy of the policy in respect of driving and delivery in adverse weather conditions. Appropriate PPE, such as de-icers, ice-scrapers, shovel, footwear, gloves and hi-visibility clothing, should also be provided.

Games

  • Finally, watch out for weather-related games and activity. Permitting or encouraging snowball fights or any other weather-related activity is likely to find you vicariously liable for any consequential injury or loss(es).