Free article: Winter preparedness

Martin Hodgson provides advice on how organisations can prepare for winter weather.

Summary

  • All organisations should plan appropriately for the impact of cold winter weather.
  • Providers should ensure that all staff and patients can keep warm.
  • Vulnerable patients such as older people, the disabled, people with medical conditions, and young children should be identified and protected.

Cold weather planning is an important part of the maintenance cycle for dental practices where winter weather can have a severe impact on buildings and may threaten the safety of all those using the site. What should dental practices do to ensure they are as prepared as possible? 

Winter risks

Autumn is time for those responsible for dental practices to think about the coming winter and prepare. Some people who use dental practices may be particularly vulnerable in the winter.

Cold weather is responsible for many health issues and deaths each year. It increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, lung illnesses, flu and other diseases. Those who are over-65 or disabled or with pre-existing medical conditions may be at greater risk due to difficulties in moving about and staying warm. 

Staff too can be at risk. Accidents such as slips and falls increase during the winter and practice staff may have difficulty getting to work due to icy or flood conditions. 

Managers should ensure that appropriate arrangements, policies and protocols are in place for responding to the winter, whatever it brings. 

Buildings and sites

Those responsible for the premises should ensure that buildings are prepared. Problems to be addressed before winter include:

  • leaking roofs
  • blocked gutters or downpipes
  • broken windows or leaky doors
  • areas of damp on walls, floors and ceilings 
  • ground water drainage problems
  • site access issues
  • heating systems maintenance
  • fire risks
  • flood and power cut risks.

Gutters blocked with leaves can cause damage from water dripping down walls or gaining entrance to buildings. They should be cleared.

Signs of damp can indicate where water is penetrating walls. This can worsen during wet and cold weather. 

Protective finishes and silicone on window frames should be renewed where necessary and door seals checked for water ingress.

External walls should be inspected to ensure soil is not piled up over damp courses.

Consideration should be given to ground water drainage. Local flooding can occur if gullies, drains, ditches and soak-aways are not checked and cleared before the onset of wet weather. 

Safe access to the site during winter should be ensured by properly maintaining pathways, entrances and external lighting. 

Lighting should provide adequate illumination for pathways and steps during the extra hours of darkness. Lights should be checked and repaired as necessary.

Managers should procure suitable stocks of grit and rock-salt for preventing ice build-up on pathways, steps and car parks. They will also need items such as snow shovels and warm, waterproof, high-visibility outside clothing. Arrangements should be reviewed for clearing snow that does build-up. Priority walkways should be identified which will need to be kept clear, including disabled access points. During snowfall a regular inspection of walkways should be conducted to monitor snow aggregation and slippery areas. 

Heating systems

Ensuring that the practice can be kept warm throughout the winter is vital. Dental practices should take action in the autumn to ensure that:

  • boilers and heating systems are working effectively and have been properly maintained and serviced by appropriately trained and qualified Gas Safe registered engineers
  • heating controls and thermostats are working effectively and are properly set so that the boiler will fire-up if temperatures become too cold
  • radiators are working properly and have been “bled” to remove trapped air.

Annual service checks should not be left too late in the year as this may not leave time for repairs before winter. To cover boiler emergencies dental practices should check that they have appropriate 24 hour cover in place and that the list of emergency contact phone numbers for electricity, gas and water suppliers is up to date. 

Closely related to heating, checks should be made that there is adequate ventilation in place and that suitable smoke/carbon monoxide detectors are fitted and are in good working order.With windows less likely to be open during winter, a lack of ventilation can lead to high condensation levels. This can in turn cause water damage and mold growth. In addition, the lack of appropriate ventilation can also raise the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from defective heaters and boilers.

The risks of fire increase in the winter due to people utilising different forms of heating in an effort to stay warm.  In a dental practice, managers should minimise the risks by ensuring that all fire precautions are in place. 

Safety strategies

All dental practices should be aware of local and national cold weather plans and strategies. Potentially vulnerable patients should be identified and those at risk should have appropriate arrangements made for their safety. Heating premises to at least 18°C (65F) is considered particularly important for people 65 years and over or with pre-existing medical conditions. 

Toolkit

Use the following items in the Toolkit and put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Martin HodgstonMartin Hodgson MSc, PGCEA has worked in adult education in the NHS for much of his career and has an MSc in primary care. His special interests are training, premises management and health and safety.

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