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Assessing the risks in your holiday home

by Carol
14 March 2016

While we cannot be responsible for individual behavior, we should take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of our guests. One of the ways this can be evidenced is to carry out regular risk assessments of your holiday home and other areas of your property people have access to.

There are four elements to a risk assessment:

  1. Identify hazards
  2. Identify those at risk
  3. Remove, reduce and protect
  4. Evaluate

Applying a basic commonsense approach to the identification and reduction of risk can limit or eliminate hazards altogether. A copy of any risk assessment should be included in your holiday home information pack, this gives guests comfort that you have carried out regular assessments. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Identify hazards

Checks should be made to identify any sources of ignition, fuel and oxygen. Gas safety is important and a qualified individual, especially in relation to potential Carbon Monoxide danger, should undertake regular gas safety inspections. Furniture should be fire resistant and the overall risk of furniture or fittings catching fire should be reviewed and documented. Regular testing of electrical appliances and any trip hazards, for example, from electrical leads should be recorded. The risk of fire spreading around a property should be reviewed; you may want to enlist the services of a Fire Safety Inspector specifically to carry out this type of risk assessment.

Identify those at risk

Think about the type of people visiting your holiday home; include members of your family as well as guests, cleaners, visiting trades etc. You should also take account of disability, the elderly, the young and those with health (including mental health problems). Together with the type of people, risk should be considered according to activities, for example, in the daytime people on your property will largely be ‘awake and aware’, children at play etc, whereas at nighttime your guests will be ‘sleeping’, some may become unwell and so on.

Remove, reduce and protect

Fire doors, fire blankets, fire extinguishers a note of the safest exit route in the event of fire should all be considered and provided where necessary. A note of which fire extinguisher to use on which type of fire is very important, it’s no good fighting an electrical fire with water! Remove risky items such as candles, mirrors on windowsills and old appliances. Ensure all furniture complies with regulations; ensure electrical safety; make sure all open fires have guards; ban smoking in the building etc. Provide smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and check them regularly.

Make it part of your regular routine to monitor changes in risks and take steps to reconsider actions to ensure the safety of those in the property as far as 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.

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 be clear instructions of what to do in the event of fire and exit routes should be included in this. When occupied, fire exits to the outside should be able to be opened from the outside as well as the inside. Routes should be clear; consideration should be given to make sure furniture is placed so a clear route is established and you should consider any risk of people slipping on polished floors. Remember, what seems simple and easy for many can be difficult or impossible for the disabled or someone who is not well.

Evaluate

Consider the thoroughness of your assessment and the steps you have taken.  Have risks been reduced?  Have you an action plan to remedy any areas still requiring attention? When should you review the assessment? 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 trade person is working, they may become the responsible person for a short time. Consider creating an action plan for people working at your property and ask them to read it before they start work.

Summary

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 we have concentrated here on the risk of fire, a similar approach can be used for other health and safety concerns.  Things like moving and handling items, electrical safety, kitchen safety and the hazards associated with chemicals and dangerous substances. Your general emergency instructions should not only include what to do in the event of fire but also what to do if someone has health concerns. Providing contact numbers for the local emergency services and local GP are a must.

Polished floors, the danger of sharp knives in the kitchen along with the danger of children accessing bleach are all examples of health and safety concerns.  Electrical and gas safety are also major areas of concern. In addition to your annual gas safety inspection, testing electrical items is very important, as is reviewing the length of cables and the danger of people tripping over them.

There is no such thing as a risk free environment.  The point is to identify possible risks, take reasonable steps to minimise them and show you have done this in a logical, thorough and effective manner.

The result is what is important and the ability to show you have taken all reasonable steps towards the health and safety of all those occupying or visiting your property.

That said, there is only so much any reasonable person can do to ensure the health and safety of guests, if people 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 information is provided here is not exhaustive; there is a lot of helpful information widely available on the Internet. Especially useful is your local authority website and local fire service or fire safety company. Where necessary, such as in the purchase of any fire fighting equipment, you should seek relevant professional or competent people to check before making any decisions.