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Concern has been expressed by Village Hall Management Committees regarding the implications of clearing, or otherwise, snow and ice from the pathways, entrances and car parks of their hall. 

This is the advice from the Health and Safety Executive: 

“To reduce the risk of slips on ice, frost or snow, you need to assess the risk and put a system in place to manage it. 

  1. Identify the outdoor areas used by pedestrians most likely to be affected by ice, for example: building entrances, car parks, pedestrian walkways, shortcuts, sloped areas and areas constantly in the shade or wet.
  2. Monitor the temperature, as prevention is key. You need to take action whenever freezing temperatures are forecast. The BBC weather, Met Office, and Highways Agency all have forecasting facilities on their websites. There are also ‘smart signs’ on the market, available to buy at low cost which display warning messages at 5 degrees or below.
  3. Put a procedure in place to prevent an icy surface forming and/ or keep pedestrians off the slippery surface.
    • Use grit or similar on areas prone to be slippery in frosty or icy conditions.
    • Consider covering walkways (for example, by an arbour high enough for people to walk through), or use an insulating material on smaller areas overnight.
    • Divert pedestrians to less slippery walkways and barrier off existing ones.
  4. If warning cones are used, remember to remove them once the hazard has passed or they will eventually be ignored.”

Gritting – the pros and cons: 

The most common method used to de-ice floors is gritting as it is relatively cheap, quick to apply and easy to spread. Rock salt (plain and treated) is the most commonly used ‘grit’. It is the substance used on public roads by the Highways Authority. 

Salt can stop ice forming and cause existing ice or snow to melt. It is most effective when it is ground down, but this will take far longer on pedestrian areas than on roads.

No tests have been carried out on how much grit to use. As a guide, on roads a rate of approximately 10-15gms/m2 for precautionary salting and 20-40 gms/m2 during ice and snow conditions is recommended.

Gritting should be carried out when frost, ice or snow is forecast or when walkways are likely to be damp or wet and the floor temperatures are at or below freezing. The best times are early in the evening before the frost settles and/ or early in the morning before people arrive. Salt doesn’t work instantly; it needs sufficient time to dissolve into the moisture on the floor. If you grit when it is raining heavily the salt will be washed away, causing a problem if the rain then turns to snow. Compacted snow, which turns to ice, is difficult to treat effectively with grit. Be aware that ‘dawn frost’ can occur on dry surfaces, when early morning dew forms and freezes on impact with the cold surface. It can be difficult to predict when or where this condition will occur. 

Bags of rock salt can be purchased from most large Builders Merchants at an average cost of £4.00 for a 25kg bag.” 

An insurance viewpoint:

The Health and Safety Executive advice is all very well but does not necessarily address the issue of liability in the event of a fall and subsequent claim, This is the view of insurers (from Peter Lawrence of AON Insurance Ltd)

“There is no hard and fast rule and salting/gritting will not avoid a claim. If a Village Hall Management Committee does clear snow, and salt or grit the area on one occasion there may be an implied duty to do so on future occasions, and failure to do so may result in liability which might not arise otherwise.

To add to this, the official view of Alliance is: “It is recommended that the Committee do not clear snow away, as once this has been done, the Committee would have to constantly maintain the area.”

To summarise, I am unable to offer any specific personal or professional advice on this subject, but hopefully in supplying the information above I will have enabled Village Hall Management Committees to arrive at their own decisions in formulating a policy on what is clearly a contentious issue. 

So what does all this mean?

Surprisingly, there is no definitive answer to this question it seems. The Health and Safety executive advice is quite clear, you have a duty to do it. The insurers are far from sure that clearing is a good idea. The regrettable fact is that until there is a serious injury and a court action establishes clear case law then the situation will remain muddled. 

Each hall must makes its own mind up depending on the situation it faces based on their location, the amount of use, the state of their access and the numbers of people using the hall. 

Gritting is an option but once you do it you need to keep it up otherwise anyone having an accident can say that the path is ‘normally’ gritted. If you do nothing and a member of your community is injured you have to live with the consequences. In the end, from a selfish point of view, it will your insurance company that will deal with any claim and their opinion must carry a lot of weight. 

One thing is certain. If you DO decide to clear then you MUST ensure you do it perfectly and leave absolutely no trace of snow or ice and you MUST ensure that you then keep it clear.

 In bad weather people have to accept that anywhere out of doors is hazardous and that they should take care. Is it best to try and make things better for them or best to let the walker beware? No one seems to know ... 

Just to add to the confusion this is the advice to home owner!