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SME’s urged to prepare for big freeze

Although the UK was relatively freeze-free in 2011, the remnants of 2010’s ‘Big Freeze’ still linger as warnings of the newly dubbed ‘Cold Snap’ are flooding in.

Burst pipes, hazardous car parks and staff dropping like flies due to bad weather conditions, sound familiar?

According to the Met Office, December 1st 2010 was the coldest start to December the UK had experienced in over 20 years. Temperatures plummeted to a freezing -16 degrees, causing nationwide chaos. Cars were abandoned, shops were closed and many of us were forced to stay indoors until the weather improved.

This historical weather, dubbed ‘The Big Freeze’ not only played havoc with people’s personal lives, but it also cost the UK economy a mind-blowing £13 billion in total.

According to YouGov’s Omnibus survey, during winter 2010, 13% of small businesses said they were seriously affected by the bad weather, and 37% claimed that they experienced weather-related problems of some sort. This comes as no surprise, when you take into account sub-zero temperatures, that turned commuting into a living nightmare, and resulted in almost a third of workers experiencing ‘significant problems’ getting to work and one in ten unable to get to the office at all.

Leading Leeds-based law firm, Blacks Solicitors LLP was just one of the companies affected by the big freeze, experiencing inconveniences due to the freezing weather conditions.

In light of these staggering figures and as Britain braces itself for the ‘Cold Snap’, Paul Kelly, Partner and Employment Law specialist at the firm is urging businesses to implement some simple measures to mitigate the effects the bad weather may have on their business.

Taking the necessary precautions in advance of bad weather will not only save your business money, but will also make the seasonal transition to freezing weather conditions as stress free as possible for employers and their employees. Here, Paul Kelly gives his expert advice:

  • Temperature - A Comfortable Workforce is a Happy One

Although legally there is no minimum or maximum temperature for the workplace, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that during working hours, the workplace temperature should be reasonable. What is reasonable will depend on the nature of the workplace, but usually the temperature should be at least 16oC, unless the work involves severe physical effort, in which case it should be at least 13oC.

  • Maintenance – Be Prepared

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, so for those who have not had their central heating or boiler checked in advance of the cold weather, ensure you have the correct cover and documentation to hand – according to a survey by British Gas, the company repaired over 100,000 boilers in the six days leading up to Christmas in 2010. So, avoid paying a premium to have your heating fixed in the winter months and be prepared.

  • IT facilities – Be Smart

Anticipate that your employees may struggle to make it into work in bad weather and look at whether they could work remotely from home. This will involve reviewing your IT facilities to enable you to provide a seamless service and will ensure that you avoid costly downtime and general disruption.

  • Communication – it’s Good to Talk

In advance of the severe weather conditions, put in place an adverse weather policy and communicate it to your workforce to let staff know what is expected of them. Providing this information in advance of the bad weather will deter employees from taking unnecessary time out of the office causing disruption or loss of earnings for your business.

  • Absenteeism – To Pay or not to Pay?

Prepare a policy which provides information on working hours and pay in the likely event that a member of staff is absent from work due to bad weather. This will vary depending on the business, but it’s important to outline the companies paying policy to avoid staff disputes.

  • Premises – Grit Up

To avoid the risk of a personal injury claim, stock up on grit or rock salt before the bad weather hits and train a member of staff to be responsible for spreading grit/rock salt on all the paths and car parks on your premises. If a part of the premises become unsafe as a result of the bad weather, you should do what you can to remedy the problem and at the very least put up warning signs advising of the dangers.

  • Vehicles – Who is Responsible?

Remind all employees who drive company vehicles that they should be driven with all due regard to weather conditions. It is ultimately down to the individual driver to assess the conditions and decide whether it is safe to take the vehicle out or continue with a journey. Employees who drive on company business should be made aware that they are responsible for checking that the vehicle is roadworthy, which would involve checking tyres, coolant and washer levels and reporting any problems to maintenance as soon as they arise.

Blacks Solicitors LLP is a 15 partner law firm providing niche specialisation in Employment Law, their forte being advising owner/managed businesses and individuals throughout the UK operating from two offices in Leedswith a staff of 100.

For further information and a full range of services offered by Blacks Solicitors visit www.LawBlacks.com.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Turn Key .

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