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Ice safety and winter water safety

Children are attracted to frozen lakes, canals and Lochs as they present natural play opportunities.  Ice, however, can be a serious hazard in the UK in the winter. 

We most often hear of people falling through the ice as a result of incidents with dog walkers, ramblers, and members of the public where it is used as a walking route/shortcut, or through play.  


Ice safety advice for visitors to waterways

  • Plan your route if you’re going out and about near waterways in winter 

  • Look out for the signs and warnings. They are placed to warn of non-obvious hazards

  • Stay off the ice and frozen waters they will not be able to hold a  person’s weight

  • Keep away from the edge, and be aware that snow and leaves may obscure the edge 

  • Supervise children around ice and waterways

  • Keep your dog on a lead near ice and frozen waters and don’t throw sticks or balls onto the ice for them.  


In an emergency


If you see a person in the water: 

  • Call 999 and shout for help

  • Stay off the ice: Help from the land to the best of your ability. Try to keep your eyes on the person at all times, especially in moving water 

  • Shout to the casualty to keep still to maintain heat and energy, use a calm reassuring voice if possible: Float To Live

  • Look for rescue equipment or anything that will extend your reach such as a rope, pole, branch or item of clothing.

  • Reach or throw out to the casualty with it. Gently guide and move the person to the shore. Make sure that you are on stable ground. 

  • ​Keep the casualty warm and make sure they go to hospital.

Advice for site managers

It is important that managers have fully developed strategies for visitors during winter water safety times, and that staff understand the normal operating procedures and emergency action plans.  Managers need to know where the public are likely to go onto the ice and when these bodies of water are likely to freeze over.  

Consideration should be given to the following:

  • Supervision - increased or adjusted levels of supervision such as park rangers during cold periods. This could be difficult during holiday periods when staffing levels are lower, but if the weather is dry and cold, especially when the winter sun is out, people are more likely to visit such sites looking for opportunities for exercise during the Christmas holidays or the spring half term in February. If you re-deploy additional staff, ensure they are trained and equipped to carry out the tasks required of them.  

  • Community, publicity and education – raise awareness of the dangers of frozen water bodies and what to do. There are a number of local and national education campaigns on the dangers of frozen water which you can use or adapt. 

  • Check information and warning signs – provide users with information at the site of the hazard: what is the hazard; what action to take in an emergency, where they are, who to call. 

  • Review your emergency action plan - this will equip staff with the knowledge of what they should do when responding to an incident. When staff are patrolling on sites where public rescue equipment is located ensure that it is checked regularly, that they can provide assistance in the case of an emergency e.g., access to first aid, attempt to dissuade the public from going onto the ice, have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), throw lines, if trained to use, and a means of communication to summon the emergency services. 

  • Rescue and emergency services liaison – check that emergency services are familiar with the body of water you manage, particularly to confirm access and launch arrangements.  Your local water safety partnership and/or civil contingencies group will help. 

  • Ice breaking - RoSPA does not recommend the practice of ice breaking. 


Further information and resources

Water Safety Signage:  Water safety signs – RoSPA  

Water Safety Code: Water Safety Code - RoSPA 

Safety at Inland Waters : Managing safety at inland waters - RoSPA 

HSE: Click here

Free Ice Safety Educational Resources for Practitioners:

A  workshop that considers winter safety and in particular; ice safety. It’s a free-to-download resource.

Lesson plan: Click here

Workshop: Download

Activity cards: Click here

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Leisure Safety
+44 (0)121 248 2235
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