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Winter warning for churches as cold snap arrives

Church occupiers need to clarify responsibility for clearing snow and ice, urges Congregational & General Insurance ...

Church occupiers need to clarify responsibility for clearing snow and ice, urges Congregational & General Insurance.
 
As Britain prepares for the first widespread snow and ice of the winter this week, national church insurer Congregational & General is urging churches to consider their responsibilities for managing snow and ice on church property.
 
Lisa Brough at Gordons LLP says: “There is no straightforward answer for every scenario, however it is worthwhile dispelling one urban myth. Many occupiers of church property believe they are not liable if they don’t clear snow from paths, or if they do and someone falls then they are liable. This is simply not true. In fact, the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 confers a duty on occupiers to take such care as is ‘reasonable’ to ensure that visitors will be ‘reasonably’ safe when using the premises.
 
“Some churches may only open their gates once a week to a small congregation. In these circumstances, it would be unreasonable to expect the church to remove every piece of snow and ice, but a path into the church of at least one metre in width cleared and gritted well before visitors arrive may suffice.
 
“If a church opens its doors every day, perhaps as a cafe or drop-in centre, more care and effort will be required, especially if there are employees or volunteers on the premises who will need to be kept safe under the Workplace Regulations.”
 
In the 2001 case of Cother -v- RMC Group Plc an employee slipped on a snow covered car park at work at 9.30am. His employers were found liable for failing to undertake any gritting or snow clearance well before employees were due to arrive at work.
 
Employers, even where there are just one or two employees, as is often the case in churches, need to ensure that appropriate procedures are in place to make sure that a pathway into work is properly cleared and gritted well before the employees arrive. Occupiers, particularly churches, who expect visitors that might require extra care for example the elderly or disabled, have a duty to implement measures to ensure their safety on snow and ice will be higher.

Lisa recently dealt with a case following the heavy snow where a visitor parked her car on the driveway leading into the church. The south-facing drive meant that the sun had melted and cleared around three quarters of the drive, with just the bottom section near the road remaining icy.
 
The visitor could have parked her car safely had she driven it closer to the church however, but she chose to leave the car boot overhanging the icy patch at the bottom. The visitor removed items from her car boot on two occasions, so must have been aware just how icy it was underfoot. Half an hour later the visitor came out, went back to her car boot and slipped, sustaining a nasty fracture.
 
This claim was repudiated, but what is most unfortunate is that the church did nothing to clear its driveway at all. Neither the visitor, nor the church, gave the heavy snow any thought at all – just a quick shout from church to visitor to “bring her car up the drive” would have prevented a very serious injury.
 
Sometimes, it does not take much to prevent injury by slipping on snow and ice – just a quick thought as to who might be visiting and when and what might be the best way to ensure their safety is sometimes all it takes.
 
Margaret Slater, marketing manager at Congregational & General, said: “The wintry conditions that we are forecast to expect across the UK means we simply want to remind all churches to take the time to think about protecting their visitors and congregations.”
 
For more information visit www.congregational.co.uk

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