At a glance
- Sub-zero winter temperatures pose a significant risk to people and property
- One of the greatest dangers is pipework freezing and bursting, but other risks, such as trips and slips, must also be carefully managed
- We explain some of the simple precautions that can help to keep people and property safe this winter
Freezing temperatures can present serious hazards to people and property. Already this year, temperatures have plummeted as low as -15℃ in some parts of Britain.
Although March will herald the start of the meteorological spring, there is no guarantee there will not be further severe weather to come. Last year, it was late February and early March when the Beast from the East took hold, bringing with it up to 50cm of snow in higher areas.
One of the biggest risks during periods of extremely cold weather is escape of water, which is among the leading causes of property claims. The Association of British Insurers says insurers pay out an average of £2.5m per day for escape of water claims.
“Prolonged periods of very low temperatures can lead to pipes freezing and bursting,” says Graham Page, Senior Technical Trainer, Zurich. “This can have serious consequences for customers. It can often leave them without water and electricity, and facing costly repair bills.
“The risk of escape of water can be greatly reduced by ensuring that all pipes and water tanks are adequately lagged, and that properties are kept above 10℃ at all times.”
Practical steps to protect property
There are a number of other simple, practical steps that can help to minimise the risk of damage to property during the winter months. These include:
- Fitting frost thermostats to ensure that boilers and heating systems come on automatically in cold periods
- Inspecting and maintaining boilers and other heating systems under a full maintenance contract
- Draining and disconnecting water pipes, tanks and heating systems in buildings that are permanently unoccupied
- Insulating external water taps to protect them from frost
- Clearing gutters of fallen leaves and debris to reduce the risk of overflowing water
- Understanding the locations of stopcocks so that water can be quickly turned off in an emergency
Preventing trips and slips
It is equally important to ensure that access and exit routes can be safely negotiated in wintry conditions.
Should somebody fall and hurt themselves on an icy path for which you are responsible, you could face a personal injury claim.
However, that does not mean that in order to avoid such claims, it is necessary to clear every last inch of snow from every car park or pathway.“It’s simply about being able to demonstrate you have taken reasonable precautions, for example by clearing the most frequently used access routes,” says Graham.
The importance of inspections and risk assessments
Regular property inspections are vital to help identify potential risks. A risk assessment should first be undertaken to establish how frequently inspections are needed, which will depend on the property.
Graham says: “For claims defensibility purposes, it’s important to document the findings of your inspections, even if no action was subsequently required.”
Our winter weather resources
We have produced a range of articles and other resources to help customers protect themselves against winter weather risks.
- Winter Weather Property Guide
- A quick guide to winter health and safety
- Severe weather driving tips
- Winter weather checklist for universities
Graham adds: “Although we are not out of the woods yet when it comes to severe winter weather, customers can go a long way to preventing most weather-related risks by taking some fairly simple precautions.”