Do not take the risk

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Car park, Nightclub operator luminar, Security

Coulson: assess risks outside your premises
Coulson: assess risks outside your premises
There is always a tendency within the licensed trade to consider that you are responsible only for what goes on inside your premises, not outside, says Peter Coulson.

There is always a tendency within the licensed trade to consider that you are responsible only for what goes on inside your premises, not outside.

If you have a troublemaker, you eject him or ask him to leave, and that is an end to the matter.

But many licensees, especially those in city centres, know that this is no longer the case. You cannot ignore what goes on outside your premises, or assume that getting rid of someone who is causing you problems means that there is no further responsibility.

In May of this year, nightclub operator Luminar pleaded guilty to a charge under the Health & Safety at Work Act resulting from the death of a customer that a security man had ejected.

The problem was, he ejected him through the closest fire exit, which led into an enclosed car park. In trying to climb out, the young man fell to his death.

It appears that this form of ejection is fairly common, and I am sure some readers have similar examples, especially when trying to get rid of someone who has had too much to drink. But the judge held that Luminar was responsible for failing to conduct a proper risk assessment, and for failing to instruct contract door staff in the procedure for ejection, which should always be on to a thoroughfare from which they can move with safety.

It is always easy to be wise after the event, and it was, apparently, a series of mistakes. The security guard saw the car park gates open, but did not realise that they shut automatically, trapping the young man inside. His brief was to get people off the premises by the simplest possible route, hence the use of a fire exit. But it was not the most appropriate way to deal with the situation, and the company should have realised this.

This kind of liability is fortunately rare, but we have had several examples in the past of cases where the ejecting of drunks, especially, has led to problems. In one case, the judge commented that occupiers had to be aware of their surroundings, and if they were in a potentially dangerous position — she gave the example of a pub by a river — they had to take extra care to ensure the person was safe.

This is not to say that a licensee's responsibility extends to any action taken by a person who has been drinking in the pub. Some years ago, certain campaigners tried to link licensees with drink driving offences, but it was made abundantly clear to them that from a legal perspective you could not link the supply of alcohol in a normal situation with liability for a subsequent accident. Only if there was a deliberate intervention would there be a problem (where, for example, a licensee handed over keys to someone who was clearly incapable).

But this recent case should compel all those who run licensed premises to re-assess what potential dangers lie around for their customers, not only in the public areas of the premises but other areas into which they might stray or be propelled. Also, whether you employ security staff directly or use a contract company, remember that their actions can sometimes rebound on you. It is essential to ensure that you have given them a proper briefing on what you expect them to do, and repeat it at regular intervals, preferably keeping a written record of the instruction.

I know this is a counsel of perfection, but risk assessment is becoming increasingly important in this industry and you ignore such tragedies at your peril.

Related topics: Training

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