Welcome to RoSPA’s Winter Safety Hub – your guide to staying safe during the coldest months.
Each year, RoSPA takes many enquiries from members of the public and employers about staying safe during the winter months. We are committed to the philosophy that life should be as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible, and we encourage people, particularly children, to get out and about to enjoy the wintry weather.
In line with this, we hope this page will help you to find some proportionate and sensible safety advice for the winter period.
We need to adapt the way we drive during the winter and be prepared for journeys that may take us through very varied weather, road and traffic conditions.
When we have prolonged periods of snow, we tend to see a fall in the overall number of road casualties because fewer people take to the roads. Of course, accidents still happen at these times, and weather conditions can play a part. In 2014, figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) show that 29 people were killed, 251 were seriously injured and 2,274 were slightly injured in reported road accidents on Great Britain's roads when there was snow or ice on the road surface.
RoSPA's Winter Driving Tips give advice about preparing your vehicle, preparing your journey, preparing yourself and driving in snow or ice, rain, fog, strong winds and low sunshine. You can find additional help about preparing your vehicle in our vehicle checks video. If you're planning a long journey this winter (indeed, at any time of year), you might find RoSPA's Safer Journey Planner useful.
Knowing about the road conditions and weather forecasts should help inform whether and how journeys can be undertaken. Listen to local radio weather and traffic reports and also keep an eye on:
RoSPA supports the use of salt and grit on road surfaces as part of a pro-active and re-active winter maintenance programme if and when the temperature drops, or is expected to drop, below freezing point. However, it is recognised that it may prove impossible for all local authorities with highway responsibilities to ensure that all roads are treated on each occasion. Objective criteria must be adopted and employed to ensure that critical routes are dealt with as a priority, and so some subordinate roads may not be covered. Road gritting can be requested via the Directgov website.
Winter driving advice for employers
RoSPA encourages employers to have a winter driving policy for their staff who drive for work purposes. Central to the policy will be the question of whether, when conditions are very severe, journeys need to be undertaken at all. The best thing to do in extremely bad weather is to stay off the roads altogether, and firms should ensure that their drivers take heed of any warnings - either from official external sources or from within the firm - not to continue their journeys.
When conditions are not so bad as to prevent travel entirely, there are various aspects of journey planning that enable trips to be undertaken more safely. Every journey should be managed and those responsible for journey planning should take account of: road type (for example, can rural roads be avoided?); hazards (such as accident "black spots", unsalted/ungritted roads or stretches of road that might be unsuitable for high-sided vehicles in high winds); traffic densities (timing journeys to avoid peak traffic hours); and, high-risk features (for example, steep hills in the winter). RoSPA's Driving for work: safer journey planner gives general guidance on how work-related journeys can be planned at any time of year.
It is also crucial that journey scheduling allows time for sufficient rest stops, for drivers to take account of reasonably foreseeable weather and traffic conditions, and to comply with speed limits. Good practice is to build time into a journey, which means drivers will be less likely to rush in order to make up for any delays. It is conceivable that journey routes and scheduling might need to be altered during the winter months.
Employers should review their emergency arrangements with staff so they know what to do in the event of an accident, breakdown or getting stuck, and ensure that vehicles contain adequate equipment.
Part of the winter driving policy should also focus on how vehicles are prepared for winter. In addition to checking that company-owned vehicles are prepared for winter, and remain in a good condition throughout the season, employers could also provide a checklist to encourage staff who drive for work to conduct all the necessary checks of their own vehicles.
And- of course, sharing the elements of safer winter driving with all employees who use the road for work is something employers could give particular attention to.
If you're an employer based in Scotland, the Scottish Occupational Road Safety Alliance (ScORSA) is a valuable source of information and advice about managing work-related road risk.
Safety out and about
Slips, trips and falls
Slips, trips and falls are the most common types of accident in life generally and, thankfully, the consequences of many falls on snow or ice are simply minor bumps and bruises.
In previous years, however, thousands of people have been admitted to hospital after suffering more serious injuries after falls during wintry weather. Figures from the Hospital Episode Statistics for England show there were 2,919 admissions to hospital in 2014/15 as a result of people falling over on snow or ice.
During times when pavements and footpaths are covered in snow/ice:
- Wear sturdy footwear, with a good grip - you can always change into other footwear when you have reached your destination
- If you've got Nordic walking poles (or similar), use them
- Take it slowly and allow yourself extra time to get from A to B, so you don't find yourself having to make a last minute dash to get to the bus etc.
- Keep an eye on what is underfoot. Some places will remain icy for longer than others (e.g. places that do not get the sun)
- If you have neighbours who are elderly/disabled/new mums etc. offer to pop to the shops for them
- If councils have provided grit bins so people can treat public areas not included on the usual gritter route, use them - but don't remove vast quantities for your own personal use.
Remember - as well as slips and trips on pavements and in public places, many people fall over on their own footpaths and driveways. Take care in these places too.
Ice and snow advice for older people
The consequences of a fall can be more serious for older people. RoSPA has special tips for them to help avoid falling in slippery conditions:
- Try to minimise the need to go out. Ask friends or neighbours to shop for you or take you to where you need to go
- If you do decide to go out when there's snow and ice about, take time to think what you can do to reduce the risk of a fall
- Where possible, plan a safe route from your home to where you are going, so as to avoid slopes, steps and areas that have not been cleared or gritted
- Don't take short cuts through areas where the slipping hazards are greater
- Ask a friend or neighbour to clear a safe path from your front door
- Wear proper footwear for better traction on slippery surfaces. Consider fitting anti-slip crampons
- Consider using a stick or better still, a walking pole and take slow, small steps. Try not to hurry and give yourself more time to get from A to B so you do not rush
- Use rails or other stable objects that you can hold on to
- If possible, wear extra layers to protect the more vulnerable parts of your body like your head, neck and spine if you do fall
- Wipe your feet well when entering buildings
- In public places, always report unsafe conditions so other people do not get hurt
- RoSPA's older people's safety information and advice page has tips for what to do if you suffer a fall.
Clearing ice and snow at home and work
In recent years, it has been suggested that by not touching snow/ice you cannot be sued if someone slips over, and that trying to make conditions easier for pedestrians could leave you open to claims if someone subsequently has an accident.
RoSPA puts accident prevention ahead of fears about being sued if someone slips on a surface that has been cleared. Slips, trips and falls are the most common types of accident in life generally, and are clearly more prevalent when conditions are icy.
On business premises, there is a duty to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of those using your land.
In public areas (e.g. the pavement outside a shop/business/service), we would hope that shopkeepers/service providers etc. would show public spirit and a wish to make access to their premises easier by clearing snow and ice. When open, they are inviting people to visit them, so we would hope that this would be reflected by the clearing of pavements.
When clearing snow/ice, there are two key points to remember:
- You must not make conditions worse- creating a sheer icy surface by pouring boiling water over the pavement and then walking away is not an option
- You must do a good job, and keep on top of the job (reacting to changing conditions). You'll probably have to tackle an area more than once.
The Gov.uk website has more advice about clearing snow and ice.
Members of the public must also remember that it is unrealistic to expect every stretch of pavement to be cleared and they should take their own reasonable precautions to avoid slipping or falling.
Water and leisure safety
Whenever the country is in the grip of freezing temperatures, RoSPA sadly hears about people losing their lives after falling through the ice and there are always many more near-misses. A RoSPA analysis of 20 frozen water deaths from recent years found that the victim had been attempting to rescue another person or a dog in more than half of the incidents. When a dog was involved, it was common for the pet to scramble out to safety when the owner did not. Other incidents involved children who had been playing on the ice.
RoSPA encourages people, particularly children, to get out and about to enjoy the wintry weather. Along with wrapping up well to keep warm and dry, it is important for all of us to be aware of the hazards of frozen water and the extremes of winter weather conditions. We encourage parents to talk to their children about the hazards of frozen water and what to do if they see someone fall through the ice. Although frozen water can look tempting, there's simply no way of knowing whether the ice will hold your weight and it's often too late by the time you find out that it won't.
Ice safety advice for the operators of sites that contain water and tips for what to do if someone falls through the ice are available on RoSPA's ice safety webpage.
RoSPA also has tips for sledging and a skiing and snowsports safety advice and information page.
Home safety (including christmas safety)
During the winter, with gas boilers and fires, wood burners and other types of fuel-burning appliances working to the max, safety attention tends to focus on the prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) can build up as a result of the burning of any type of fossil fuel. Awareness of the dangers of CO has been improving in recent years, but there is no room for complacency; for example, when looking at figures related to gas alone, the Health and Safety Executive says that every year around 11 people die from CO poisoning caused by gas appliances and flues that have not been properly installed, maintained or that are poorly ventilated.
RoSPA is running a campaign with Gas Safe Charity encouraging organisations to get involved with the Be Gas Safe programme to raise awareness of the "silent killer" by handing out information leaflets and CO alarms to those most at-risk - families with young children and older people.
Cold weather puts the elderly at particular risk of hypothermia. This is when the body temperature drops to at least 35°C. To avoid this, try to move about at regular intervals, drink plenty of hot drinks and eat regularly. Wearing several layers of thin clothes can also help to reduce the risk.
Each winter, RoSPA takes many enquiries about Christmas home safety.
Christmas is a time when your home is likely to be full of people and it is in the excitement of the season that accidents can easily happen. However, one of the good things about Christmas is that there are typically more people around to supervise the children and, with a little more care and forward planning, most accidents could be avoided.
In response to requests, RoSPA has produced some Christmas safety tips (the webpage includes a dramatic video produced by the Fire Kills campaign).
RoSPA is also concerned about the risks posed by button cell lithium batteries. The tiny batteries, which are found in remote controls, toys, musical Christmas cards and many other household items, can be easily swallowed by small children and are poisonous – they can cause devastating injuries to a child’s internal organs.
More detailed Christmas fire safety advice, including about candles, is also available.
There is a wealth of information about winter safety available from a variety of sources, including on minimum temperatures for work, adverse weather policies and personal protective equipment for adverse weather and temperature extremes.
Employers requiring information on other aspects of winter safety are welcome to contact RoSPA's Infocentre. The Infocentre provides information to organisations and the public relating to all aspects of safety. In addition, RoSPA members are able to access advice from both the Infocentre and RoSPA consultants. If you're a non-member seeking advice, you can find out more about joining RoSPA on the RoSPA membership pages, by calling 0121 248 2051 or emailing email@example.com.
The Met Office website is the home of the Government's Get Ready for Winter campaign, which includes safety and health information, plus links to the latest weather reports.
In Scotland, RoSPA is supporting the Scottish Government's Ready for Winter campaign.
For Wales, winter weather advice is available from the Welsh Government.
In Northern Ireland, winter help and advice is available from NI Direct.