Severe Winter Weather

Severe winter weather places widespread pressure on the country and government organisations. However all agencies have learnt from previous instances of severe weather and as a result have improved their contingency plans for such an event.

Each Council has a Highways Winter Service Plan which operates throughout the winter period which traditionally runs from November through to March. The objectives of these Highways Winter Service Plans is to ensure that the highways network remain operational throughout periods of freezing ice and snow.

The winter season usually lasts from November to March. Precautionary gritting (salting) is carried out at carefully judged times before freezing occurs to prevent frost and ice forming on road surfaces. If snow accumulates then snow ploughs may be used to clear roads prior to gritting

Keep Warm, Keep Well

Keeping warm is a vital part of keeping well in the winter particularly for older people, the young and those with chronic illness, as more people get ill and the number of deaths rise. The “Keep Warm Keep Well” campaign offers advice on remaining healthy in cold weather. And includes information on energy efficiency, grants and benefits available for the financially disadvantaged and vulnerable.

Support for vulnerable people

Cold weather, especially extreme cold, can be dangerous for everyone. According to the government there are over 25,000 excess deaths each winter in this country, many of which are preventable. Preventative action taken at this stage can greatly benefit vulnerable groups during the cold weather. Be a good neighbour and be community spirited. Check on those around you, particularly the vulnerable that may need help or assistance.

Who is at risk?

  • Some people are more at risk of becoming ill during cold weather. A number of factors can determine who is more vulnerable during winter:
  • older people – especially people who are over 75 years old
  • children and young people – particularly children with respiratory problems, such as asthma
  • chronic and severe illness – including heart conditions, respiratory insufficiency, asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • fuel poverty – over 75% of those who cannot afford to adequately heat their homes are adults living alone
  • inability to adapt behaviour to keep warm – this affects people with disabilities, babies and the very young
  • environment and overexposure – such as homelessness, or living in a cold, damp home with poor or inadequate heating and insulation  


Being prepared and planning ahead for winter conditions can include the following:

  • wrap up well when going outdoors
  • maintain the right temperature in your home (max temp is 18-21°C)
  • close curtains and shut doors to keep heat in the rooms used most
  • use hot water bottles or electric blankets (but never both together) if the bedroom is cold at night
  • eat and drink well – food is a vital source of warmth
  • get financial help for heating your home through available grants
  • have a ‘flu jab
  • try and arrange for someone to visit high-risk individuals who live alone at least once a day
  • older people, people with chronic or serious illness or mobility problems, or those living in hard-to-heat accommodation, may need extra care and support

Take responsibility for snow clearance from your pathway

Be community spirited. There is no law preventing members of the public from clearing the snow and ice on the pavement outside their properties, or pathways to their property or public spaces. Provided they act reasonably and carefully, and use ordinary commons sense, it is very unlikely that a member of the public would face any legal liability. People who walk in these areas have responsibilities to be careful themselves. National guidance on this matter is expected shortly.

If you decide to clear snow or ice then follow these tips:

  • Do not use hot water. This will melt the snow, but may replace it with black ice, increasing the risk of injury
  • Do not take unnecessary risks in the road; motor traffic will find it difficult to stop quickly in icy conditions
  • Choose suitable clothing for the task. In particular, ensure you have sturdy footwear to provide a good grip. Wear a high-visibility jacket if you have one
  • If shovelling snow, consider where you are going to put it, so that it does not block people’s paths or simply shift the problem elsewhere
  • Use a shovel with the widest blade available
  • Make a line down the middle of the area to be cleared first, so you have a safe surface to walk on. Then you can simply shovel the snow from the centre to the sides
  • Spread some salt on the area you have cleared to prevent any ice forming. If there is no salt bin nearby, ordinary table salt will work, but avoid spreading it on plants or grass. Remember, that the salt in salting bins will be needed for keeping vehicles moving too
  • A few grams of salt (a couple of tablespoons, say) for each square metre you clear should be enough. Remember it will take a little while to work
  • Use the sun to your advantage. Simply removing the top layer of snow will allow the sun to melt any ice beneath; however you will need to cover any ice with salt to stop it refreezing overnight.  


There is plenty of case law about the responsibility of the highway authority with respect to snow, ice and gritting but none which deals with ordinary members of the public. The position of an ordinary person who clears snow from outside their own or someone else’s property is that they would only be liable for an accident if (a) their efforts actually made the pavement less safe than it was with the snow and ice undisturbed (b) they should have foreseen the likelihood of someone being injured as a result (c) someone actually gets injured (d) the injury is the result of their efforts and (e) the person injured decides to sue them. In most cases people will be improving the situation in which case no liability should arise. There is a theoretical possibility of liability arising if a person cleared an area by moving a lot of snow somewhere else, which caused an accident, or if they cleared snow which wasn’t slippery, and left a wet area which iced up and became slippery.

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