If you are living in the South of the UK, the chances are that you are staring out your windows right now at an inch or two of the white stuff lying on the ground. If you have children who want to go out sledging and snowman building you have probably already been out in it with them.
Yes snow is a novelty, and very pretty for a while. It’s also quite a lot of fun but there is a point where it stops being fun and becomes downright dangerous. Once the snow has melted a few times and refrozen overnight it becomes ice. And no one likes ice outside an ice rink.
Quite a few of you will have ‘skated’ to school and work on Tuesday morning after Monday’s snow. 3 of my children fell over while walking carefully to school on Tuesday. They didn’t hurt themselves but of course kids do break bones by falling on icy pavements. However it’s not just kids who are in danger from icy pavements. Adults often fall too and because they are taller and weigh more, can injure themselves badly. I slipped on a frozen puddle under the snow yesterday and although the worst that happened to me was I looked like a complete idiot, I did have a moment where I wondered what would happen if I had ‘really’ hurt myself.
Many people do hurt themselves seriously on icy pavements; England spends £42 million a year admitting fall victims to hospital and treating them. But a large proportion of fall victims are older people who rely on their daily walk to the shops for food, exercise and company. A fall can cost them their health and their independence and financially it costs £18K a year to put an elderly fall victim in residential care.
So what can you do to make pavements safer after snow has fallen?
Grab a shovel and clear the pavement in front of your house, or help older people in your neighbourhood.
When you clear snow and ice:
- do it early in the day – it’s easier to move fresh, loose snow
- don’t use water – it might refreeze and turn to black ice
- use salt if possible – it will melt the ice or snow and stop it from refreezing overnight (but don’t use the salt from salting bins as this is used to keep roads clear)
- you can use ash and sand if you don’t have enough salt – it will provide grip underfoot
- pay extra attention when clearing steps and steep pathways – using more salt may help
If you are gritting
- Rock salt is the most commonly used ‘grit’ – it’s relatively cheap, quick to apply and easy to spread. Bags of rock salt can be purchased from most large builders’ merchants at an average cost of £4.00 for a 25kg bag.
- Get your neighbours involved! Working together to grit your local street is a great way to strengthen your community and make the area safer for everyone.
- You should grit when frost, ice or snow is forecast or when walkways are likely to be damp or wet and the floor temperatures are at, or below freezing. The best times of the day to grit are early in evening before the frost settles or early in the morning, before people start leaving their houses. Salt doesn’t work instantly; it needs sufficient time to dissolve into the moisture on the floor.
- Avoid gritting when it’s raining heavily as the salt will be washed away, causing a problem if the rain then turns to snow. Compacted snow, which turns to ice, is difficult to treat effectively with grit.
Strictly speaking, you should only have to clear the steps and paths on your own property. Legally, your council is under obligation to keep pavements safe.
Under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980, a council has a duty to ensure that the highway is safe to use, as far as reasonable, and specifically that it is not made dangerous for pedestrians by snow and ice. The highway includes the footway (as defined in section 329 of the same Act). On top of this, under section 150 of the Highways Act 1980, councils have a duty to remove a deposit of snow from the highway if it is an obstacle. The public can complain to a magistrate if this duty is not carried out.
Realistically councils need to prioritise where they use scarce resources – which is why it is so important to make the case that a huge proportion of the most essential local journeys, particularly for some of the most vulnerable people, are made on foot.
You can do your bit to make your council aware that people consider unsafe pavements a priority by writing to your local councillors and asking them to take action on icy pavements. Clicking on this link will take you to a website that will take your name and address to work out who your councillors are, then help you personalise an email to them calling for action on icy pavements this winter.
You are probably still going to have to get out there with the shovel and grit over the next day or two, but adding your name to this petition could make all the difference to the condition of the pavement outside your house next time it snows.