Case studies


Case Study: innovation in Winter maintenance – Safethaw


Cambridgeshire County Council are an innovative and forward thinking council who are willing to embrace new ideas, if they see that there will be a benefi­t to the people of Cambridgeshire. The Winter Resilience Review highlighted some key issues following the hard Winter of 2009/10 and the Council wanted to ensure that they had plans in place to face similar problems in the future. It was hoped that such a challenging Winter would not follow immediately but the strategies were in place to mitigate the risk.

Improved treatment of pedestrian areas

Cambridgeshire have a new fleet of 38 gritters that are organised in advance of weather warnings and the system for the main traffic routes is responsive and effective. A strong message that came through the Review was for better treatment of pedestrian areas as part of  winter maintenance programmes, including footways, bridges and cycle paths. The city of Cambridge is a cycling city and so this was of particular importance to Cambridge. Prior to 2010/ 2011 accidents involving cyclists on bridges during bad weather was a major concern for the Council.

The Review also highlighted the issues surrounding stocks of rock salt and the need for better communication between a county council and other local and regional bodies such as district and parish councils. An improved winter maintenance service had to be delivered within the resources available. The Review led the council in Cambridgeshire to trial new approaches and they are now carefully monitoring the results of these decisions to ensure that the correct resources are in place for 2011/ 2012.

Challenges: improving accessibility in Cambridge

Traditionally the method for treating footways and bridges was individuals spreading rock salt with a shovel or by hand. The limitations of this method are the inability to spread evenly, which leads to either wastage or not enough coverage to be effective in some areas. It is a labour intensive and has cost implications at a time when councils have been targeted to reduce expenditure. Salt is also corrosive which causes damage to areas such as bridges, particularly when the salt is being used repeatedly in cold Winters.

The council investigated alternatives to rock salt that would enable them to manage pedestrian areas that had proved dif­cult to reach with traditional methods for spreading salt. The key considerations were the need to have improved access for pedestrians and cyclists. Any possible solution had to be straightforward to administer, be cost effective and not detrimental to the environment. All of these objectives had to be achieved within the parameters of allocated budgets. The result, ultimately, had to improve the accessibility of Cambridge for the people living in and visiting the city.

Solution: a new product – Safethaw

JPCS presented Safethaw as an alternative winter maintenance solution that could ful­lfil the objectives of the council, driven by the needs of the city and recommendations of the Winter Resilience Review. The council decided to undertake trials in areas that were proving very dif­ficult to treat using traditional methods and ‘hot spots’ for pedestrian accidents such as cyclists travelling over the fourteen bridges in the city. By using Safethaw the council has been able to treat a greater number of footways and treat the bridges more effectively for cyclists, whilst also greatly reducing the problem of corrosion on bridges created by repeated over usage of rock salt.

Safethaw was applied using two techniques; ATV Safethaw Applicator and knapsack sprayer. The ATV Safethaw Applicator had a bar attached to the back about one metre in length which sprayed the required area on pavements and then the knapsack sprayers were used where the ATV could not ­fit. Both of these methods meant that an increased number of footways were treated faster and with less people involved in the process. The ‘Cambridgeshire Safethaw Applicator’ was used proactively in the media to highlight the actions of the council during the severe weather. This generated a positive message throughout the council and to the people of Cambridgeshire. They could see that the council was being proactive and forward thinking in tackling the problem of continuous severe weather conditions.


Safethaw has met the objectives of reducing hazardous pedestrian areas; it has also removed the cycling accidents on bridges, alleviating pressure on healthcare services. It also generated interest from other councils who were interested in the approach and the subsequent results.

“Cambridgeshire County Council has an integrated approach to preparing for and managing severe weather. This involves working with both district and parish councils to ensure that resource is utilised to greater effect for the people of Cambridgeshire. JPCS has worked with the county council to enable them to make the best use of Safethaw with invaluable training at the start of the season and ongoing support whenever it is needed. This has been vital, as the method for applying Safethaw needs to be understood, due to the differences from spreading rock salt. Cambridgeshire are innovative and embrace new ideas and feel that taking on Safethaw has been a good decision.” — Richard Kingston, Cambridgeshire County Council.