With the advent of Storm Arwen, we can definitely say winter weather has arrived. And with it a reminder of the constant risk of severe cold weather, icy conditions and heavy snow. Providers should have already created their winter contingency plans. But what planning points should they pay particular attention to when preparing for inclement weather?
Firstly, and most crucially, winter planning needs to be centred around the business continuity plan. It’s all about knowing the business, the business location and being able to effectively forecast what to do when bad weather hits. Whether it is snow, floods or power cuts – they all need to be taken into consideration and adequately risk assessed.
What’s critical to remember is it’s about ensuring people aren’t left in vulnerable situations, and managers not only support their service users but their staff too.
The same planning principals apply to both residential, supported living and domiciliary care, whether the business is in one place or spread out over a larger geographic area. If a sudden spell of bad weather comes in, staff need to know what to do.
A key element is care planning, looking at vulnerable service users and reviewing their risk rating. The QCS business continuity plan has a dedicated section which outlines policies and procedures for supporting service users during adverse weather conditions.
It covers vulnerability levels, contingency measures such as providing medication support in an emergency situation, and in domiciliary care and supported living settings, who to call when service users can’t be reached. Each service user is assessed in terms of risk and vulnerability. The plan defines who, in the event of bad weather, can check on them and provide support – whether its family, neighbours, or friends. If no one is available, then the next step would be to contact social services or police. In cases such as Storm Arwen providers should also seek advice and guidance from local authority civil emergency planning teams.
Compliant and safe vehicles
It’s important to check that vehicles are road worthy and winter ready – for community-based staff who drive to support service users as well as residential care staff who commute to work.
For those who drive for work providers should check that the MOT is valid, the insurance is up-to-date and staff have breakdown cover (in my experience, many don’t due to the extra cost). All vehicles should have a first-aid kit and a professional car winter kit, which includes everything that’s needed if a member of staff breaks down in the middle of nowhere – from a thermal blanket and water, to a torch, a spade and a high-visibility vest.
Contingencies should be in place for when they might be needed. It’s important to think outside the box. For example, I have known some providers who have used 4X4 vehicles in the winter when heavy snow prevents staff from getting to work.
Check with staff that they can get to work in rural areas, which might experience more severe weather conditions than urban locales. Think about the process and action plan when staff do not respond or turn up where expected.
Supervision Contracts need to be in place to ensure harmonious working relationships between staff and managers are maintained and strengthened. The contracts provide the ground-rules and include a section on work-life balance. This is where managers can discuss personal and health issues to provide an overall picture of the staff member’s home life.
Understanding a person’s life away from a care setting means you can provide better support. Many working in the sector face a raft of challenges. Some, for example, have elderly or sick relatives a home. Others have young children at school and can’t therefore work outside the normal working hours. It’s only by giving care staff a safe platform to talk openly about their problems that Registered Managers can put effective programmes in place to address them.
By identifying challenges experienced by staff, managers have a better idea of what’s coming and can adjust plans accordingly. If a spell of bad weather hits, and local schools are closed, they will know that staff without childcare will be affected and so can put contingency plans into action.
Wellbeing of staff, particularly in the challenging winter months, is critical. Make sure that they have everything they need and address their concerns. Set up one-on-one awareness meetings with staff to discuss their health and mental wellbeing worries and develop a wellness action plan as an extension of the supervision plan.
Create a buddy system and nominate Mental Health First Aiders to be the first point of contact for any employee experiencing a mental health issue or emotional distress. Inform staff of self-referral portals to NHS counselling services. Talk about the measures in winter planning sessions. Many people struggle at Christmas so it is a good time to make sure staff feel valued.
Winter season pressures often impact staffing levels – from no-shows due to bad weather to family care taking precedent. Providers need to ensure staffing levels are sufficient to meet requirements and have a strategy in place via business continuity planning.
Understand staff members personal circumstances and the implications for the service. For example, if a staff member has elderly relatives that they care for or children at school, they might need to be back at home straight after their shift.
Providers can publish future rotas for a longer period than usual to make staff aware of when they are working. A contingency rota will help ensure that all shifts can be covered. If a provider uses an agency, they need to find out what contingencies they have in place to deal with winter weather related issues and ensure supply.
Ensure there are emergency preparedness kits in place in the event of an evacuation. If policies determining what items should be included in the grab bag were developed previously, make sure the grab bags are fit for purpose and up to date. Suggest staff try putting in place emergency evacuation plans and strategies at home, especially if they have young families or care for elderly relatives.
Collect feedback, make tweaks if necessary and update policy and bags. Make sure they are placed at the exit. Some service users might benefit from their own bag if they have specific health or medication needs. Someone who is Autistic, for instance, will likely better deal with the situation if supported with a social story and a bag containing key items.
As part of the business continuity plan, and fire risk assessment, develop Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEP). These need to be kept up to date. Develop a list of places of safety such as hotels where service users can be taken.
Checklist for providers:
- Review QCS Winter Planning Toolkit
- Review Business Continuity Plan
- Make sure staff are aware of the Business Continuity Plan and what to do in an emergency such as a severe storm or power cut.
- Remind staff of appropriate policies such as:
- Adverse Weather Policy and Procedure
- Supporting Service Users During Adverse Weather Policy and Procedure
- Business Continuity Plan Policy and Procedure
- On-Call Policy and Procedure
- Are emergency grab bags accessible and all PEEPS up to date? Try testing out your emergency evacuation plan at a team meeting.
The article was first published in The Carer – Issue 79