Holiday Home and Cottage Health and Safety
The Law, a useful link: http://www.accommodationknowhow.co.uk (UK only. It is always worth checking the information is up to date when visiting any link).
This is included to help reduce some of the uncertainty and mystery behind health and safety rules, regulations and practices.
Do not panic, just because a guest stays in your holiday cottage, it does not mean that they do not have any personal responsibility for health and safety. The important thing is that you take reasonable steps to ensure health and safety. If a person unscrews a light bulb and sticks their fingers into a live socket, in the vast majority of circumstances, you will not be held responsible… even if you had not plastered warning stickers all over the place. Likewise, if someone fell over a threshold bar when they were running from room to room, again, it is more than likely that they are responsible because they failed to act in a reasonable way to ensure their own health and safety.
On the other hand, if there was a rotten floorboard and they jumped once causing a leg to disappear below the floor… then, the homeowner is more likely to be open to a claim. Simple and sensible precautions assuming guests do their bit in respect to their own Heath and Safety responsibility for themselves and their charges will see you through. Health and safety is largely a matter of applied common sense and reasonable care. If you can show that you have done this and have taken any reasonable steps to forward this end, following health and safety guidance, you should be free from any significant liability. See useful suppliers, national agencies & regional agencies
Notes on risk assessment
This is a procedure to ensure the basic logic is applied to identifying dangers, those exposed to danger, ways of limiting or eliminating danger, checking the quality of actions already taken and to be taken and making appropriate review arrangements. Any careful person applying commonsense will usually go through similar processes.
There are four basic elements to a risk assessment:
1. Identify dangers
This can need professional competence where danger may not be obviously clear. For instance, the danger of fire crossing voids in roofs of older buildings or finding easy spread up stair wells. However, professional competence is not always needed. Furniture or fittings catching fire; the danger of electrical leads, fittings and appliances. Even the potential danger of a rug on a polished floor could be relevant. Gas safety is important and adherence to gas safety regulations and safety inspections, especially in relation to potential Carbon Monoxide danger.
2. Identify those who may be at risk
This should include the type of occupant, for instance ‘visitor’, members of your family as well as a guests, or cleaners, visiting trades people etc:. It should also take account of disability, the elderly, the young, those with health or, in some cases, anyone with mental health problems, dementia is also a potential concern. The state of people within the building should also be considered such as, ‘awake and aware’, ‘sleeping’, children at play, people who are unwell and so on.
3. Consider the different types of person and their states in the light of identified dangers in para 1. Consider how the dangers might be minimised (taking fire as an example) by for example:
Elimination of minimisation of the danger. Eg: Ensuring all furniture etc: complies with Regulations; ensuring electrical safety; making sure all open fires have guards; banning smoking in the building etc:.
Means of warning and escape from any danger.
Methods to monitor changes in risks and steps to reconsider actions to ensure the safety of those in the building as far as is reasonably practical.
There will always be risk, the main thing is to manage the risk to the extent where all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure safety. Such steps could include the use of smoke detector alarms in all bedrooms, the main lounge and the kitchen. (Heat detectors are now preferred in kitchens). The detectors should be linked if the building has been recently rewired, but wireless linked detectors are readily available for older buildings.
Where a larger building is involved, a full fire alarm system should be considered.
A powder fire extinguisher and a fire blanket in the kitchen area may be appropriate, along with a water extinguisher close to the main lounge area. There is an argument that a powder extinguisher may be a better choice where the danger of fire caused by electrical items is sufficient to justify it. However, water should be available if open fires are being used to avoid potential dispersal of hot embers by the force of the blast or their re-ignition, once the gas has dispersed. The choice of extinguisher should be carefully made in relation to water, powder, CO2 and foam variants.
The means of exit is important. Make sure doors to the outside are working and can be opened. Locked exit doors present a real danger in emergencies. There should clear instructions of what to do in the event of fire and exit routes. There are some interesting aspects: for instance, when occupied, holiday let fire exits to the outside should be openable from the outside as well as from the inside.
The routes should be clear and thought should include consideration of the danger posed by such things a rugs on polished floors.
Consider the thoroughness of the assessment and steps taken. Have the risks been reduced? What is the possibility of any major areas being still unaddressed? When should you review the situation: ideally, this should be done at six to twelve month intervals or earlier if significant changes have been made to the property.
Who is the responsible person? Who is the competent person? Who did the assessment and when? It is quite possible for the same person to be all three. In some cases, where a trades person is working, the responsible person can, in fact, be more than one person for a short time.
This is not exhaustive, but it is to offer a framework of how to approach the risk assessment. No risk assessment can be totally exhaustive, but when conducted well, it can often go a long way to ensuring greater safety in times of danger.
Although the above has emphasis on fire, a similar approach can be used for other health and safety concerns. These can be put in such categories as moving and handling, electrical safety, kitchen safety, chemical and dangerous substances. (The general emergency instructions should not only include fire and what to do but also what to do if someone has a serious health concern, with contact numbers for the local emergency services and the local GP. These things are usefully included in the Guests’ Welcome Pack).
Such things as rugs on floors, the danger of, even, sharp knives in the kitchen along with the danger of children accessing bleach are examples of health and safety concerns. Electrical safety is also another major area. Although PAT testing is important, the length of cables, the danger of people tripping over them and other concerns is also relevant.
For small buildings, the matter of who is competent is blurred. If you take reasonable steps to find out basic information such as how different types of extinguisher work and their use and follow a clear effective assessment system and act on its findings, someone without formal fire training may be qualified to do the assessment. Again, there is no such thing as a risk free environment. The point is to identify risks and take reasonable steps to minimise them and to show that you have done this in a logical, thoughtful and effective manner.
The result is what is important and that you can show that you have taken reasonable steps towards the health and safety of all those occupying or visiting your holiday let. This being the case, should something happen causing harm which danger you have taken reasonable steps to guard against and minimise, there will be a strong case in your favour against any suggestions that you have not done the right thing. There is only so much any reasonable person can do to ensure the health and safety of guests, if they are determined to endanger themselves, it is virtually impossible to cater for this and they have a legal responsibility towards their own health and safety in this respect.
The above is given as guidance. As ever, seek expert advice to confirm or add to this outline information. The whole area of risk assessment involves many disciplines and for large buildings can call on the services of more than one competent person. Fire services could be a useful port of call.
Access needs to be given some thought. What seems simple and easy for many can be difficult or impossible for the disabled, infirm or unwell. In many cases, there may be no legal requirement to provide an access statement but in some, it could be advisable. These will ensure disabled people will know important things such as whether they can manoeuvre wheelchairs in bedrooms and whether they can easily enter the building or exit it in case of fire or other emergencies. There are some good examples on the Internet which can be easily found with a search engine.
This information is provided by way of contrast and to prompt further investigation before acting. As ever, seek relevant professional or competent people to check before taking any decisions. Where applicable, all contents of this website are copyright Country Holiday Lets Ltd. See useful suppliers, national agencies & regional agencies