When it comes to injuries and accidents on business premises, ignorance is not an excuse in the eyes of the law. If you have failed to fulfil your responsibilities for the premises, whether as a landlord or tenant, you may leave yourself open to significant compensation claims. Historically there has been some confusion regarding the responsibilities of tenants and landlords. Thankfully, the majority of these responsibilities are now clearly defined across various health and safety laws.
While there will be some variation depending on the exact wording of lease agreements, the majority of responsibilities tend to be set in stone by law/legal agreement.
Health And Safety At Work Act 1974
When looking at health and safety in general, it tends to be the responsibility of the tenant to ensure the premises abide by health and safety regulations. These will take in issues such as:-
- Sufficient space, ventilation and lighting
- Provision of drinking water, sanitation and washing facilities
- Ensuring the premises abide by legal workplace temperature requirements
- Keeping the premises free of waste
There is also a general responsibility for maintaining the equipment within the business premises. In reality there may be a joint agreement between the landlord and tenant when it comes to equipment which was already on the premises prior to the lease being signed.
Under normal circumstances, the vast majority of health and safety regulations will be the responsibility of the tenant although in the event of shared premises with other businesses, there may be communal areas. These may include stairways, lifts and toilet facilities to which those businesses sharing the premises may contribute to a service charge. In this situation these areas would be the responsibility of the landlord.
Gas Safety Regulations
The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations Act 1998 stipulates that the landlord has an obligation to ensure the safety of all gas equipment. This will include:-
- Arranging annual inspections by an official Gas Safe registered engineer
- Retention of gas safety inspection records going back a minimum of two years
Even though it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that all gas equipment is safe and tested on a regular basis, there may also be responsibilities for the tenant written into the lease. Whether you are a landlord or a tenant of business premises you need to be fully aware of your obligations and your responsibilities. The health and safety executive takes failure to adhere to Gas Safety Regulations extremely seriously and regularly hands out large fines and will often take legal action.
Fire Safety Regulations
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 is very specific about the parties responsible for fire safety and the requirement to carry out regular checks. The responsibility falls upon the “responsible person” which is deemed as the employer using active business premises or the landlord if for example the premises are used as storage facilities. This is a legal responsibility and failure to fulfil these obligations will often result in large fines and potential imprisonment for the “responsible person”. Some of their responsibilities include:-
- Taking precautions to ensure that people are safe in the event of a fire
- Carrying out regular risk assessments
- Carrying out ad hoc risk assessments where the layout of the building and equipment may have changed
- Ensuring that all safety equipment is in working order
- Ensuring emergency routes and exits are clear at all times
It is fairly obvious that the authorities take fire regulations extremely seriously. The actions required to abide by regulations will always be the responsibility of the “responsible person” but can be carried out by others.
Electrical Safety Regulations
The responsibility for ensuring the safety of electrical supply to a business premise lies with the landlord. While officially there is no need to provide a certificate to the tenant, the Electrical Safety Council have a list of recommendations which both landlords and tenants are advised to follow. These include:-
- Advice on how testing should be carried out
- The frequency of such tests
- The taking of reasonable steps and precautions to prevent injuries
An additional recommendation from the Electrical Safety Council suggests that thorough testing should be carried out every five years or each time the tenancy changes. Failure to abide by the regulations (as opposed to the guidelines) can lead to significant fines and potentially large compensation claims.
In many cases the responsibility of maintaining the safety of electrical equipment will fall with the tenant – many of whom will bring in their own machinery over the course of their tenancy. This overlaps to a certain extent with the general maintenance of machinery which should be regular and thorough. All safety equipment such as guards and insulated wiring should be fit for purpose and free of damage.
Managing Asbestos Regulations
The Control of Asbestos Regulations Act 2012 places a general duty on the “duty holder” to manage instances of asbestos in business premises. While many people will automatically assume that it is the landlord’s responsibility, very often it comes down to the tenant. This is because very few landlords would take on this legal responsibility if they were not in direct control of the premises during the duration of the lease. Contrary to popular belief, the presence of asbestos does not necessarily mean it needs to be removed but merely “managed” to ensure the safe well-being of employees. This legal responsibility consists of:-
- Taking steps to identify materials which contain asbestos
- Assessing the risk to those working in the vicinity
In the event that asbestos is located in commercial premises a licenced contractor would need to be appointed to carry out any remedial work. This ensures minimum disbursement of the fibres and minimal risk to those working in the immediate area. In reality, buildings built after the year 2000 should not contain any asbestos whatsoever but those built prior to the turn-of-the-century may need to be assessed.
Fixtures And Fittings
As a general rule of thumb, any fixtures and fittings which were installed by the landlord will need to be repaired by the landlord. All commercial leases should incorporate details about the repair of fixtures and fittings including a timescale and contact details for the landlord. In the event that the landlord was advised of the issues and failed to act in an appropriate manner/timescale, they would likely be liable to significant compensation claims in the event of injury. Where they did not have sufficient time to carryout repairs they may be able to mitigate any claims for compensation.
Assessing The Condition Of The Premises
All commercial leases will contain various obligations for maintenance and repair as well as a dilapidation review at the end of your term. In order to ensure that you are not charged for maintenance and repairs which were already evident before you moved in, it is advisable to hire the services of a surveyor. They will be able to officially note the condition of the building and file photographic evidence to protect you against excessive repair charges further down the line.
Take Legal Advice On Your Lease
Whether you are a landlord or a tenant you should always be aware of your responsibilities and liabilities in relation to business premises. It is highly advisable to have a legal expert look over the lease before you sign it. Ignorance is not an excuse in the eyes of the law because if you sign the agreement, whether you are a landlord or tenant, then you have accepted those responsibilities.
Typical Workplace Injuries
While it will depend upon the specific type of workplace, there is an array of common injuries which occur time and time again, often leading to workplace compensation claims. These include:-
- Cuts and lacerations
- Crush injuries
- Broken bones
- Inhalation of toxic fumes
In the event of serious injuries it is not uncommon for the Health and Safety Executive to become directly involved and instigate a more in-depth investigation.
While the majority of regulations covering business premises are fairly straightforward, with a sensible split between landlord and tenant obligations, there are some anomalies. It is essential that both parties are aware of their individual responsibilities and legal liabilities from day one. Once you sign that lease agreement you take on a whole host of legal responsibilities and failing to fulfil them can be costly. In the event of an accident or injury in the workplace, as a consequence of negligence, the victim may be able to apply for compensation.
We have seen a significant tightening of health and safety regulations across the board in recent years. In the event of confusion or uncertainty regarding the liabilities and responsibilities of landlords and tenants, this is where a clear line of communication can help avoid accidents and injuries.