ice rock salt grit winter property management guideAs the temperature drops in winter we begin seeing those below-freezing days with frost on the ground, and the frenzy of people pouring rock salt and grit on the ground to help reduce the risk of people falling. This is an area, however, not often fully understood, and tends to be very last-minute in terms of doing something to help stop any harm from the cold.

Hopefully incidents are few and far between, but after being involved in some myself over the years it’s not good to see both in terms to injury to people and the complicated insurance and liability claims afterwards. So here is a look at the whole subject, broken down in three stages, all beginning with the letter P:

The Problem

In short, when the temperature falls below the point of freezing, water turns into ice, which in turn causes a slippery surface for people to be slipping and falling on ice and then being injured. In fact it can also cause other things such as vehicles slipping as well, and causing damage to other vehicles and properties.

When it comes to placing grit and rock salt on the ground, the idea is that it prevents ice forming around it and therefore people and, say, vehicles traveling over it have less change of slipping. This can be manually by using a shovel to place grit from perhaps a yellow grit bin on site, or you can arrange for larger vehicles to spread across a larger private car park areas for example, like what you see them doing on the roads.

In terms of popular questions raised on this process of gritting helping to prevent the ice and slipping, these include:

• Why is Salt Spread on Icy Roads?

Just like above, the idea is to stop ice forming or at least dominating an area and so reduce the likelihood of people and vehicles slipping on it and being injured. Technically, the grit is needed before the ice starts forming rather than afterwards, and its rock salt that you place down rather than the generic ‘grit’ term.

• At What Temperature Does Road Salt Stop Working?

Theoretically down to around 20 degrees, although it’s the temperature of the ground surface rather than the air and wind that is key, and you have to ensure the right chemicals are included for it to be effective up to this level.

• How Does Grit and Rock Salt Work, and What is Gritting?

It’s a generic term to this process of placing rock salt on the group surface, whether a manual form by say a shovel, or automated vehicle form.

• Why Does Salt Keep Snow Turning to Ice?

The principle is that rock salt will reduce the physical temperature that water turns to ice and snow on the ground surface even though the actual temperature is lower.

The Principle

When it comes to property management, you need to take a step back and understand the bigger picture of what you’re trying to achieve. You then realize that this process of rock salt on the ground to stop ice and then injury is just one element of a general issue of making these areas safe for people (and vehicles) using them.

The first point is knowing who’s responsible for these outside areas, as they’re the one to instigate all of this. Easier said than done though, as in reality there are few leases and legal documents that will clearly state that a landlord or tenant or other person has to do this. For those leases where a tenant has a specific responsibility though, for example the immediate front car park or rear section, then even if the lease is silent you can pretty much infer this through general maintenance clauses and other general legislation such as the Health & Safety At Work Act 1974 and Occupiers Liability Act 1957 and 1984.

For those areas where they are not, and maybe a landlord maintaining ownership and responsibility for a communal car park area, then it can be less straightforward. The landlord may have overall control, but tenants and their visitors have rights across it and some degree of responsibility to implement that. It often boils down to being reasonable in that unique situation, and the landlord may be able to carry out general gritting services and recharge through a service charge under a general ‘sweeper’ clause for the interests of good estate management.

So landlords may have an obligation to ensure these rights are exercised safely, but don’t have to necessarily clear every square inch of ice on the site, just provide a reasonable system for keeping main access routes clear, and which may need to involve the provision of facilities for the occupiers to do themselves as well (an important legal case in 2004 was McCondichie v Mains Medical Centre that helped clarify a lot of this). This is also dependent upon the actual reality and risks involved, so if there was a GP Surgery on site then greater works may be needed for vulnerable and ill persons visiting this.

The Occupiers Liability Act is also an important piece of legislation to consider as well as the property legal documents. This doesn’t have a clear definition of a legal ‘occupier’ on a site, and can imply both a landlord and tenant in different scenarios and not just look at who has exclusive possession from a lease perspective. This is for the occupiers to provide reasonable care in all circumstances to ensure visitors are safe using premises for the purpose they have been invited to do, with ‘visitors’ even including trespassers. Courts have interpreted such an occupier was a landlord, tenant, contractor, and even concessionaire – including multiple numbers of these – as they discern as to who actually has some degree of control over the use of the property for the activity in question.

A final point is the involvement of the local authority for those designated public highways under the Highways Act, which they have an obligation to cover where reasonably practical. Although this is more straightforward for main access roads etc, if you have areas directly in front of your property that are theoretically the highways’ responsibility, there is this grey area where as a occupier you may still need to take your own reasonable measures as well.

The Practice

These problems and principles can still leave you confused as to what you practically need to do in colder periods. Here then are a few practical pointers in terms of how to implement this both literally with the application of rock salt, but using other methods and procedures as well:

1. You Need to Communicate Who is Responsible For This

Managing agents typically take a black and white approach to this in that they communicate to all occupiers that they are instigating a method of placing grit down themselves, or alternatively they clarify that it is not cost-effective or reasonable to do this, and so may provide a grit bin and shovel for occupiers to use themselves as they deem necessary under their own risk assessments.

2. Some Assistance Can Still Be Helpful

So as above, although you may want to clearly say who is responsible, because of the different pieces of legislation and leases in existence, it can still involve other people. Therefore doing something can still be useful and demonstrate reasonable application, without feeling as if you’re going to suddenly admit liability for doing everything.

So if you’re a tenant of a building, even though the landlord may be applying spread in the car park at the front, and the local authority spreading grit on the access road at the back, you may still want to make sure extra grit is placed on the main walkway if you know its going to be a very severe freeze and you have more vulnerable customers coming the next day.

3. Remember That Applying Grit Before the Ice Comes is Better Than Afterwards

So ideally apply it in an evening or the early hours of the morning before the ice starts forming later on in the night and so prevent you from having to react the following morning.

4. Make Sure That Correct Insurance Cover is in Place

Also check if the insurers prescribe any methods to deal with this, and there is a clear procedure for dealing with these risks, which will help then defend any personal injury insurance claim afterwards.

5. Check Who Pays the Cost for the Gritting

Typically this will be through the service charge for communal areas by a landlord, which can be costly with an automated vehicle-spreading service over a severe winter.

6. Shop Around for the Best Winter Gritting Companies and Services

Not only look at the cost of course, but the service in terms of a definite procedure for dealing with the call outs, and how much of the area they will cover. You of course will also need to check that they have suitable insurance cover themselves and Health &Safety policies.

As an example, they may be able to spread grit in a main car park from a vehicle, but check if the individuals then personally spread over walkways with a shovel. Also, check that they have full access details to the site including barrier codes and bollard keys.

7. Complete a Suitable Risk Assessment

This can be part of your main Health & Safety policy, and helps identify the risks involved and what actions are needed in your situation to mitigate these. You may also need to liaise with other occupier and landlords in order to relate this to their own risk assessments so you come up with a holistic strategy that involves everyone.

8. Check Documents for Clarity on Who is Responsible and What Needs Doing

Not only does this include leases and legal documents, but any existing building guides and correspondence.

9. You Can Restrict People From Areas That are Affected Worse

So if there is a particularly steep ramp, you may decide to simply cordon off the whole area and communicate to people, and divert them to another route which may take a little longer but be safer.

10. Use Signage Correctly on Site

So this can be standard warning signage, or barriers and cones to warn people at certain areas, but be careful that people don’t take these for granted and that it is clear and only used when needed.

11. Be Ready for Other Weather Conditions as Well

So if it snows, the bigger problem may be clearing the snow first before you can even begin considering gritting, although sometimes it can cause more harm than good to clear snow and leave an exposed surface more open to ice forming. Also watch out for rainfall washing away any grit and it needing to be re-applied, and the wind can blow leaves in an area which can also be a slip hazard as ice.

12. Have a System of Noting When the Temperature Falls Below Freezing, as This is the Trigger Point

An outsourced company should have this in place already, but a practical way is to check the proposed temperature the day before online at the Met Office and be ready to take precautionary action the day before if you know it is going to go below freezing.

13. Be Wary of Using Hot Water to Clear Ice

It may work well for the first 30 seconds, but if the temperature is still well below freezing then the water can soon change to ice itself after it cools and cause more of a problem.

So in summary, you first need to begin understanding the problem at hand with potential ice forming and people being injured, before secondly then realizing the principles at hand. This is where a good and relevant risk assessment can help you with these, and then applying to the third stage of practice and what you need to have in place. You then need to clearly communicate to individuals what your procedures and action is, and how they play a part in this.

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