The Occupiers Liability Act 1957 states that the occupier of a premises may be held responsible where a lawful visitor to that premises is injured. But what about when the injury is caused by a change to the premises to allow the company to trade during these testing times?
Under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, the occupier has a duty of care towards anyone who visits their premises. Reasonable care must be taken to ensure that the premises are safe for the visitor’s purpose. Common examples of risks in shops, restaurants and supermarkets are slippery floors, fixed or transient trip hazards, sharp objects and falling objects and some measures occupiers are expected to take could be regular cleaning and inspection, placing hazard signs notifying of a hazard or clearing up spillages and dropped items immediately.
In order for companies to trade during the Covid-19 pandemic they have had to make quite significant amendments to their premises to ensure their customers and staff are safe, usually including such amendments as markings on the floor to indicate distances or one-way systems and fixed barriers or shields for separation between seated customers or between customers and staff. These types of amendments in turn pose their own risks and we are seeing shifting tides in the types of accidents currently occurring, such as customers tripping on loose tape, or suffering an injury from falling barriers or shields.
In order to defend against a claim of this nature, the company would need to show that they had a reasonable system in place at the time of the accident and/or that they completed an adequate assessment of the risks posed by the changes made to their premises. We would expect to see that care has been taken to ensure that these specific hazards, which are likely to give rise to a risk of injury, are considered carefully and that steps are taken to reduce the risk to the lowest reasonable level.
Now more than ever it is important for companies to ensure that regular cleaning and inspections are taking place but also that care is taken in installing barriers, signs, and shields and that checks were completed to ensure they were safe and without risk of falling. However, if the company is not able to show that they took these reasonable steps, it is likely that a court would find in the claimant’s favour proving that the company failed to comply with their duty of care in keeping the claimant safe.