Health and safety liabilities

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Key facts

  • If you are the owner of serviced or self-catering accommodation with control over your premises, the Occupier's Liability Acts 1957 and 1984 apply to you.
  • The person who controls the premises (the 'occupier') is liable for the physical safety of everyone who comes onto the premises.
  • Under the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969, employers must have insurance to cover their liability for any harm suffered by an employee at work.
  • Public liability insurance is not compulsory but is strongly recommended for accommodation providers.

Your liability to guests and the public

Under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 and Occupiers’ Liability Act 1984, the person who controls the premises (the 'occupier') is liable for the physical safety of everyone who comes onto the premises. In some cases, this liability also extends to trespassers and other 'uninvited' guests.

Occupiers have what is known as a 'duty of care' to guests and other visitors, and must make sure that the premises are reasonably safe for the purpose for which guests were invited to use them.

Does the legislation apply to me?

Yes: if you are the owner of serviced or self-catering accommodation with control over your premises.

These Acts create a liability, i.e., you can be sued for compensation. You cannot be prosecuted and fined, sent to jail or receive a criminal record under this legislation, but you could be prosecuted under other legislation if you do not take proper precautions.

What does this mean in practice?

You must make sure that the premises are 'reasonably safe.' For example, you should ensure:

  • floors are not slippery
  • passageways are clear
  • cables are tucked away
  • furniture and wall fixtures are secure
  • guests are acquainted with emergency procedures and layout of the premises.
  • Note: If you have children staying on the premises, you need to make sure the premises are reasonably safe for them, not just for adults.

Duty of care

Your duty of care in relation to guests does not normally extend to parts of your premises that are clearly marked as being out of bounds (such as the kitchens in hotels and B&Bs).

Generally, you are also liable for accidents caused as a result of the actions of your staff or other guests. For example, if a member of staff leaves a bucket on the stairs and someone trips over it and injures themselves, you may be held responsible.

No matter how many notices you put up to the contrary and whatever your booking conditions may say, the law does not allow you to exclude or restrict your liability for death and injuries to guests arising from your negligence (or that of your staff or agents). However, you can take out insurance to cover your liability.

You will not normally be liable for guests who injure themselves while involved in an activity that is not something a guest might reasonably have been expected to do on the premises, such as abseiling from an upper floor window.

Each guest has a duty to take care of his or her own safety. If the guest’s own negligence led to an accident, this would reduce, or could even override, any liability that the you would otherwise have.

The transportation of guests

If you transport guests, even if this is only occasionally picking up or dropping someone off at the station, there are three issues that need consideration:

  • whether a licence is required
  • what insurance is required
  • health and safety considerations.

Occasional transport

At the lowest level, you do not need a licence for occasional transport if:

  • you very occasionally help out a guest by providing a lift
  • you do not charge for this, and
  • your vehicle has no more than eight seats.

However, you will need to ensure that you have business insurance for your vehicle as, regardless of the lack of payment from the guest, you are still undertaking a business activity.

You should also undertake a quick health and safety assessment prior to transporting the guest – i.e. is the car roadworthy at the time, has the guest put on a seatbelt and is any luggage stowed safely.

Regular transport

If you are providing a lift for your guests to and from their point of arrival as a regular or standard service, then regardless of whether there is a separate charge for this service, you will require a special operating licence and appropriate vehicle insurance.

In this case you will need a Passenger Service Vehicle (PSV) licence. There are two forms of this licence – restricted and full.

Restricted PSV licence

A restricted licence allows you to operate up to two vehicles that have up to 16 seats, provided that you do not use them as part of a passenger transport business, or you are operating your vehicles as part of your accommodation business and that it is not your main occupation. To gain a licence you will have to provide evidence that you:

  • have sufficient money to undertake a passenger service business
  • have no convictions
  • have a maintenance and safety programme in place for your vehicle
  • understand the legislation relating to the maximum hours that you can work driving the vehicle
  • have the relevant category of driving licence for the vehicle.

For each vehicle with more than nine seats, you will also need a Certificate of Initial Fitness for the vehicle to prove that the vehicle was properly constructed for the purpose of transporting passengers. You will require this even if you buy the vehicle second-hand.

Separately from the requirements for the PSV licence, you will also need to undertake a written health and safety assessment of the operation and keep this updated.

  • Note: The Government is reviewing the requirement for accommodation and attraction operators to gain a restricted PSV licence in order to transport guests to or from their premises. However, any review will not remove the requirement for operators to gain a Certificate of Initial Fitness, have appropriate insurance for their vehicle or to undertake a health and safety assessment.

Full PSV licence

If you wish to operate more than two vehicles or a vehicle of more than 16 seats, you will require a Full or Standard PSV licence. In addition to the requirements for a restricted PSV licence, you will also need a certificate of professional competence.

On-demand transport

If you wish to provide customers with an 'on-demand' service that transports them to wherever they request to go, you will require either a Taxi or Private Hire Licence. This is an expensive and time-consuming process requiring, among other things, a Criminal Records Bureau check, a knowledge test of roads and destinations in the area, a medical examination and special insurance.

The costs and stringent requirements associated with this form of licence mean that it is not generally recommended for accommodation providers.

Your liability to employees

Under the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969, every employer must have insurance to cover their liability for any bodily injury or disease sustained by an employee at work. Failure to do this is a criminal offence.

How does this apply to me?

If you are a serviced or self-catering accommodation provider and you employ at least one person, you are required to take out and maintain employers' liability insurance cover with a minimum of £5 million for any one claim (most policies available offer £10 million cover).

You must display a copy of the certificate of insurance at your place(s) of business so that it can be seen and read by all your employees. The policy document, or a copy of it, must also be kept available for inspection by Health and Safety Executive inspectors or Environmental Health officers and, for future reference, all policy documents should be retained permanently.

Do you have adequate insurance cover?

If you start offering serviced, self-catering or caravan accommodation, you need to consider whether you have adequate insurance to cover, for example, your potential liability under the Occupiers’ and Employers’ Liability Acts.

Most household policies will not cover:

  • your use of the premises for business purposes
  • your legal ability to employees or paying guests
  • any theft or damage to your property by guests.

In any event, you should contact your existing insurers as soon as possible.

Public liability insurance

One type of insurance cover you should consider, particularly as the public becomes increasingly claims-conscious, is public liability insurance. This covers your liability to guests and others for injury, loss and damage (e.g. under the Occupiers’ Liability Acts).

There is no legal requirement to take out public liability insurance, but it is a requirement for participation in VisitEngland’s Quality Assessment Schemes. It is strongly recommended that you have this type of cover.

Public liability insurance must not be confused with the employers' liability insurance. It also does not cover loss or damage to proprietors' property.

Taking out insurance

Some insurance brokers have special insurance packages available for accommodation providers that include:

  • public liability insurance
  • employers' liability insurance
  • property and contents insurance.

A broker will be able to advise you on these types of comprehensive packages or about adding extra cover to an existing policy.

Your local destination organisation may be able to recommend local insurance brokers who have specific experience in arranging cover for accommodation providers. Insurance brokers should be registered with and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and you can check brokers on their website.

Insurance for transporting guests

Ensure that you have adequate insurance cover for your vehicle if you transport guests for any reason. See The transportation of guests above for more details.

Legionnaires' disease

Information on your legal obligations in minimising the risk of Legionnaires' disease can be found in the 'Legionnaires' disease' section.