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Health and safety in vacant premises - does it matter?

Sometimes properties, both commercial and residential, can stand unoccupied for long periods of time. You may think that you have no health and safety obligations to these properties whilst your business is not occupying them, but this is incorrect. Find out what you need to do – so you don’t fall foul of the law.

30 April 2019

Sometimes properties, both commercial and residential, can stand unoccupied for long periods of time. You may think that you have no health and safety obligations to these properties whilst your business is not occupying them, but this is incorrect. A building owner or manager has a duty of care to anyone entering a property, whether they’re invited or otherwise. Whenever your building becomes vacant, you should inform your insurance company, so as to not be in breach of your initial contract.

Visitors

Those who you invite to the site are considered visitors and are covered under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 when visiting your site. The law states that you must visit the building or structure regularly to ensure that it is safe, and there is no risk of injury. If an injury should occur on your site, then you can be held liable. If a visitor acts outside of the guidelines provided by the yourself as an occupier, then they are deemed under the law to be an unauthorised visitor and would therefore not be covered under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, but the 1984 revision of the same act.

What do I need to do?

When visitors enter your site, you need to be sure to have guidelines in place in order to keep them safe. You need to review the condition of the building regularly, and to maintain the health and safety where necessary.

Trespassers

Trespassers includes both those with criminal intent, and those who have simply lost their way. Regardless of their reason for being on your property, you have a duty of care over them. Under a revision to the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 in 1984, there are specific rules that apply to how you should prepare your vacant premises in case a trespasser does enter.

What do I need to do?

You need to consider the risk to a trespasser, and reduce that risk as much as possible, addressing every danger you are aware of. This can include introducing signage at each possible entrance to alert potential interlopers to threats such as fragile roofs or collapsing ceilings or removing obvious threats such as protruding nails. You should regularly review the condition of your building or land to ensure that potential threats are removed as much as is reasonably practicable.
If you are able to properly secure entrances, then you will stop people entering your site who may harm themselves. It should be noted though that securing premises does not absolve you from your responsibilities under the Occupiers Liability Act 1984 but should act to deter potential intruders who may harm themselves on your property.

The Occupiers Liability Act 1984 revision remains a contentious issue, but it is the legal framework in which you as an occupier operate in. By ensuring that you stay within the law, you can avoid lawsuits, and help protect those who are on your site, whether you want them there or not!

Need some help with health and safety? Think of us an extension to your existing team – we are your dedicated health and safety manager, available at any time. Just give us a call on 01522 533388 or drop us an email.

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