Keeping your staff safe through the winter commute

Most people who commute via car can be divided into two groups. The first will seek any excuse to say they cannot “make it in” and either work from home or make some attempt at it. The second are a hardy but sometimes at risky bunch who will make the drive to work come hell or high water. Winter driving tips can not only help remove some excuses for the former folk but also make sure the latter are not risking themselves or others in an effort to be at their desk.


  1. Know when to say no

The first, and most important winter driving tip for anyone, but especially commuters is to actually know when it is not safe to drive at all. This seems like an odd tip to start with but ultimately peoples’ safety is the top priority. There are some situations where driving is fool hardy at best and downright bonkers at worst. The best way to judge this is to listen to the local Police instructions. If it is made very clear across local news that travelling should only be undertaken if it is absolutely necessary then a company should consider advising staff to stay at home. The kind of weather that causes these kinds of warnings is severe and the decision should be obvious. For many businesses a sound “home working” protocol should be in place to maintain productivity. This protocol should be kept under wraps to avoid any of our group 1 folk taking advantage of it though.

  1. Be prepared

Not all bad weather comes in overnight, so the choice to travel can often be one that is not made first thing in the morning but during a working day or afterwards. Whenever any employee has to drive in bad weather they should be encouraged to keep a number of important things in their car.

  • Blankets and waterproofs are essential and should really be kept in the car all year round. This means in the event of having to walk or spend a long period of time in the car without the engine on the person should be warm and dry.
  • High vis jackets are important for a number of reasons but they are very useful if any walking needs to be done. There are some situations where the driver needs to leave the car and being seen during these periods is critical, it could be a break down, stuck in snow or being asked to leave by the Police due to a traffic problem.
  • Food and water are absolute musts during the winter. If bad weather hits during a commute the driver could find themselves stuck in traffic for many hours. Making sure the car is stocked with water and some high calorie food like cereal bars can make all the difference.
  • Phone charger. Every car should have a phone charger on board but once again, in long traffic jams or in a case where the person needs to walk or call for help and well charged phone is essential. It is always advisable to charge the phone well before a journey to work or from.
  1. Servicing, tyres and safety

There are a lot of cars on the road that could probably do with some new tyres, a good service or even a pre MOT check. These cars are all at risk generally but especially in the winter. Employers should encourage regular servicing and even suggest tyre wear checks in the winter months to make sure staff are safe. A car with tyres even within the legal minimum tread limit will fair considerably worse in heavy rain or snow than one with a good set of “boots”. This difference could mean a car stays on the road during heavy braking rather than leaving it!

Making sure the car is running properly also avoids the spectre of breaking down on a cold winters’ night. This is dangerous for a number of reasons but it suffices to say breaking down is best avoided and keeping cars well maintained is the best way to do so. This maintenance should also cover safety equipment like air bags; ignoring warning lights is a big “no no” and employers should encourage people not to do it.

  1. Control

While this may not be suitable for a lot of businesses giving staff the chance to learn car control can make a huge difference. Knowing how to control a car when it starts sliding on ice or in heavy rain is a skill that not enough people know. It can actually be a great deal of fun to learn in the right environment and this kind of activity makes for a great team building day. If budget allows it is well worth looking for local driver training centres who offer group sessions. Equipping staff with the ability to handle a car when things go wrong is certainly something worth considering.

  1. Deep water

In the UK we are far more likely to run into deep water than deep snow, and the latter is not really something you can actually drive through without a substantial 4×4. Flood water, however, can be tackled, rightly or wrongly, by anyone in any car. There are a few basic tips to equip drivers when it comes to deep water and the first is always; Do Not Go Through Unless You Really Have Too. This is essentially the same as rule 1 in this article, always take the advice of the authorities and don’t take silly risks. Always avoid crossing moving water. If a river has burst its banks and is rushing over the road be very aware a car can lift up in just a few inches of water with potentially fatal consequences.

That being said, sometimes crossing standing water on a commute is essential and it can be perfectly safe to do so provided the following tips are used:

  • Choose a gear and stick to it. Never, ever change gear in deep water, it will potentially flood the clutch. Choose a low gear like second and simply plod through keeping a steady and slow pace.
  • Take it slow. Water is heavy, much heavier than air and attempting to do some sort of flying attack on it will result in damage to the car, water over the bonnet and all sorts of other issues.
  • Never stop. If the exhaust pipe is underwater the gases coming out will largely prevent water form coming back in. Once the engine slows or stops there is nothing holding it back anymore and the likelihood of getting moving again is very slim indeed.

The key to keeping staff as safe as possible in the winter is preparation and thought. Encourage people to make sure their cars are well equipped and well maintained. Employers should give staff the power to know when it is not safe to drive by communicating with them and keeping abreast of weather conditions. If things get worse during the day they should be sent home before everyone has to sleep in the office. The weather is fickle and driving is never 100% safe but taking the time to discuss and educate can certainly help get people into and out of work safely as well as keeping them at home when things are really bad.

Lloyd B Wells, an independent journalist in the sporting domain, partnered on this post with The AA Garage Guide.

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