Cold Weather Advice from ROSPA

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 7,031 admissions to hospital in 2012/13 as a result of people falling over on snow or ice.

The consequences of a fall can be more serious for older people. RoSPA has special tips for older people to help them avoid falling in slippery conditions (see box below). However, there is also advice for all age groups.

Life belt

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? Take it slow!

Advice for older people during times when pavements and footpaths are covered in snow/ice:

  • 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

Clearing snow.
Photo credit: Highways Agency

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 e.g. 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.