How to prepare your small business for winter

Blogs 28 Sep 2023

From health and safety to managing energy costs and planning for the festive season, our guide to preparing for the winter as a small business owner covers everything you need to know.

A yellow sign warning about slipper surface in winter

With dropping temperatures and the festive season on the horizon, it's time to plan and prepare for the colder months as a small business owner. 

At the Federation of Small Businesses, backing small businesses on what matters most has always been at the heart of what we do – and this is more important than ever as you continue to face heightened energy bills amid the ongoing cost of doing business crisis.

You can find energy advice for small businesses from the Government and Ofgem. If you find that you cannot afford to pay your energy bill, contact your supplier as soon as you can to discuss your options. You can also get help from Citizens Advice or Advice Direct Scotland. Microbusinesses also have the right to complain to the Energy Ombudsman about their supplier if they can't get to an agreement with their supplier (once they have received a letter of deadlock and aren't happy with the decision, or didn't get a decision letter or letter of deadlock within 8 weeks).

Find out the latest on our energy costs campaigning and the change we’re calling for to help small businesses survive these challenging times.

Reviewing your health and safety measures 

Making sure your business is a safe place for people to work, shop, or visit is essential. Whether you’re a public-facing high-street retailer, a factory with a growing workforce or your clients are visiting your offices in an industrial estate, there are many hazards you should be looking out for. 

Health and safety considerations in your business may change from season to season. While your business should be aware of hazards all year round, there can be more during winter.  

During the winter, when temperatures fall and the weather can bring hail, sleet, ice, and snow, you should do what you can to provide the safest conditions for your staff, customers, and visiting clients. You should make sure your health and safety policy is as effective as possible to reduce hazards and prevent accidents and injuries. Implement regular checks such as:

  • Checking that lighting, power, and heating systems are working properly inside
  • Keeping an eye on pathways and other areas outside to make sure they’re clear of ice, snow, and leaves
  • Appoint ing reliable member of staff or your site supervisor to be responsible for checks

Risk assessments 

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, a risk assessment is a legal requirement that involves identifying sensible measures to control hazards if you’re an employer, your work activity is mentioned in the regulations, or your work poses a risk to others. You should have already conducted a risk assessment to check the safety of the areas around your company building, but it’s wise to conduct an additional one during the winter. This involves: 

  • Spotting the potential hazards 
  • Assessing the risk of them causing an accident 
  • Taking action to prevent them 

If you employ five or more staff, you must record your findings in writing. 

Ready to update your risk assessment? 

FSB members can access a risk assessment template on the FSB Legal and Business Hub. It's home to 1,400+ legal and business templates and documents, including health and safety policies and factsheets.

Identify hazards outside your business 

These are mainly the result of wet and icy weather. Places where hazards could occur include: 

  • Company car park and its adjoining road 
  • Pavement or pathways alongside and around your business 
  • Shortcuts, like across a grass verge or to a side entrance 
  • Sloped areas 
  • Areas constantly in the shade and wet or prone to flooding 

Hazards could include: 

  • A slippery pathway at your company entrance, frozen over with ice 
  • Black ice on your company car park 
  • A build-up of wet leaves on the paths surrounding your offices 
  • Slippery wet grass where staff take shortcuts 
  • Unseen hazards in a poorly lit car park 

What can you do? 

You are not expected to eliminate all risks but you need to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from harm, including hazards due to winter weather conditions that affect people attending your premises. This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble. However, you do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk. There are different ways you could tackle hazards like these, from making simple and small changes to carrying out building work. 

  • Gritting car parks and pathways to prevent icy surfaces from forming 
  • Removing leaves from pathways 
  • Placing warning cones around slippery areas 
  • Fitting signage to stop people taking shortcuts across grass 
  • Install lighting to ensure areas surrounding your workplace are well lit 
  • Covering walkways or building slip-resistant pathways 
  • Fitting a canopy over your company entrance 

Actions like these can help keep your staff, customers, and other visitors as safe as possible when approaching or leaving your company premises. 

Identify hazards inside your business

These can mainly be the result of darker days and colder temperatures. Places where hazards could happen include:

  • Entrance areas of your business
  • Dark warehouses
  • Unlit corridors or stairwells
  • Parking areas for deliveries or distribution

Hazards could include:

  • Unseen hazards in poorly lit spaces
  • Colder working environments
  • Wet and slippery floors in corridors and at your building entrance
  • Power shortages or pipe damage caused by extreme weather

What can you do?

  • Replace lighting or install more lights in poorly lit areas
  • Buy or rent mobile heaters for cold office spaces or update your heating system
  • Fit non-slippery floors in corridors
  • Place absorbent mats or change flooring at company entrances

One of the best ways to maintain good health and safety standards in your business is to speak to your employees about potential hazards they’ve come across and shadow them during their working day. This can help determine the main walking routes they use in and around your business and ensure you’re aware of all potential hazards. The Health and Safety Executive has additional guidance on keeping your workplace safe during the winter weather.

Fitting an indoor and outdoor thermometer

This can help you know when temperatures are very low so you can assess the risk of snow and ice and know when outdoor areas should be gritted. The Workplace Regulations’ Approved Code of Practice states temperatures inside the workplace should normally be at least 16°C. They can be 13°C if a lot of the work involves rigorous physical effort.  These temperatures are not absolute legal requirements but are for guidance only.  Employers have a legal duty to provide a 'reasonable' temperature in the workplace and to determine what reasonable comfort will be for staff in particular circumstances.

Check your business continuity plan

The winter months can bring extreme weather with storms and showers, sometimes increasing the risk of flooding or power cuts. There are steps you can take to make sure that your business is prepared for any threat of flooding.

A business continuity plan (BCP) helps your company survive and continue running after a major disruption or disaster. It highlights the step-by-step process of what should be done to prevent risks that can lead to your business having to close. It aims to protect critical business functions so you can continue operating and implement a recovery strategy. Reviewing and updating your business continuity plan can help you to prepare for the unexpected, minimise disruption and get back on track. Get started with our in-depth guide to business continuity plans

Prepare for the unexpected. Get a free business continuity planning kit when you register with FSB Insurance Service, exclusively for FSB members. 

Getting ready for the gift-giving season 

It’s never too early to start thinking about preparing for the festive season! With shoppers on the lookout for the perfect gift to buy friends and family, whether it’s a personalised item or vouchers for an experience, plan for how you can make the most of this demand.  

Selling online?

Polish your digital shop front with our e-commerce hub, or explore top tips for promoting your business.

Running sales or promotions?

If you're looking for ideas for how to find new customers, our marketing hub has a range of resources covering branding, advertising, PR and more. 

Increasing your stock to meet demand?

Don't forget to check that your insurance has you covered, should the worst happen. Reach out to an insurance expert for advice to make sure you’ve got the right insurance in place, especially if you’re making any changes to your business model. 

Hiring extra help?

You might be considering taking on more employees to ensure that you can comfortably meet demand (rather than turning down all-important sales!) Learn more about what you need to do as an employer in our guide to hiring seasonal staff and temporary employees.  

Free small business resources

Learn new skills with the Federation of Small Businesses. Explore hundreds of jargon-free articles, guides, webinars, training opportunities and more, all designed for small businesses and the self-employed.

Find out more