Thanks to three major snow events all rolled into the one period, last winter was unprecedented. The season started early, in November 2017, and lingered well into mid April 2018.
There were some very mild periods, but when the weather was at its worst, for many of us, it was worst we remembered.
It's difficult to predict what may be around the corner when it comes to winter 2018-19. Following the weather patterns and cycles over the last 20 years, I believe there is every possibility the UK could have another couple of harsh winters. This was certainly the case between the winters of 2009-2011.
There is a need to plan
Winter 2017-18 and its extreme weather has hit home the real need for businesses to have a winter maintenance plan, or face being caught out.
Those who haven't put any plans in place need to ask themselves how will they cope and how will they ensure their sites are safe for staff and visitors in the event of treacherous weather. Organisations have a duty of care to assess the risks and ensure they are properly prepared. Failure to take the right approach can and will inevitably have disastrous consequences.
Winter maintenance tenders should be issued in a timely fashion, because leaving it to the last minute means you could land you with the wrong offerings. We had instances last winter of companies coming to us for help in the midst of the harshest weather – companies that hadn't already put in place an effective winter service. We did what we could but had to prioritise our existing clients, ensuring the safety and access of their sites first.
Winter maintenance should not be lumped in with cleaning, security and landscaping. Yes, it is a niche business, but given the issues faced by so many organisations last winter I firmly believe that gritting should be given full attention from both a planning and a budgeting perspective.
And if you want the cheapest price, don’t expect to get the best quality. It's important to be realistic and to ensure the correct levels of support for a given site.
Investing in the right levels of support
If a severe snow event could close your business and you have zero tolerance for closure then investing in effective winter service delivery is a must. It is vital you engage with a provider you know can provide the right levels of service. It is also vital you engage with your suppliers early and be honest about your expectations.
The service has to be fit for purpose, otherwise the cost becomes irrelevant and a complete waste of money. Remember one size does not fit all, so go with a provider who can tailor their support levels to suit.
Reviewing and agreeing specific site requirements is key. Busy site managers need to know their winter maintenance provider has full capability 24/7 when it comes to monitoring the weather and providing evidence of the service.
Engage with your provider all year round, not just during the winter. We are here 12 months of the year and although the focus shifts, keeping suppliers engaged ensures that at the start of winter any changes are already worked in and the contract starts on the correct footing.
Partnering with a winter gritting and risk-management provider will ensure consistent service levels, along with a full audit trail. At the end of the day, it is about demonstrating best practice, adhering to health and safety requirements and managing the impact of adverse weather.
Vicky Lopez is founder and director at De-ice.
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