When is snow and ice a risk to employees “while at work”? This is one of those perennial questions which employers grapple with at this time of the year. A recent case however provides comfort for employers in the form of a good dose of common sense!

In Parr v Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (November 2014), Mrs Parr was a community midwife employed by the Trust. She slipped and fell on an icy pavement after visiting a patient at home. She claimed compensation from the Trust for her injuries.

The Trust had a “uniform and safe dress policy” which required employees to ensure that their footwear had adequate grip to prevent slips, trips and falls. It went on to say that employees should wear “sensible footwear appropriate to the uniform and work area, with the consideration to accessing the workplace in icy weather conditions.”

The main issue in the case was whether the Trust was in breach of Regulation 4 of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 which requires employers to provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees who may be exposed to a risk to their health and safety whilst at work, except where the risk has been adequately controlled by other equally or more effective means.

Mrs Parr argued that the Trust should have provided her with a “winter grip” device which she could have put on her shoes to ensure greater traction on packed snow and ice. The Trust countered by arguing that the risks envisaged by Regulation 4 were those arising specifically from work, not those to which an employee who happened to be at work was exposed in the same way as any other member of the public. The risk of slipping and falling on ice was the same for anybody walking along the street and was not work-created or work-related. Therefore Regulation 4 did not apply in this case.

The county court judge agreed with the Trust. As a midwife, Mrs Parr was not routinely employed to work outdoors, although she would have to go outside from time to time. The judge said “I do not read the [Regulations] as effectively making an employer the guarantor of his employee’s safety under those Regulations even if the employee had to go outside from time to time in adverse weather conditions as an ancillary part of her employment. If this were so, then the Regulations might be said to apply to many employees who, during their working day, have to go outside and off their employer’s premises in inclement weather not for extended periods of time and not for the purpose of carrying out the core duties of their employment but merely as an ancillary aspect of performing their employed role. It is the difference between a risk which is work-related or work-created and one that is not.” The judge said that if Mrs Parr was right, then the Regulations would potentially apply to a teacher moving between the buildings of a school or an employed solicitor getting out of a car to meet a client and having to walk across icy pavements or roads. To accept that interpretation would have imposed a liability far beyond what was ever intended. The court also said that even if the Regulations had applied, the risk of slipping was adequately controlled by training and the footwear she had on in accordance with the Trust’s “uniform and safe dress policy”.

The key starting point therefore is to work out whether the risk from ice and snow is work-related or work-created; this will determine whether or not Regulation 4 applies.