With magistrates given scope to impose harsher fines on anyone cutting health and safety corners, Karen Moody Wood, property support manager at Star Pubs & Bars, believes that adhering to regulations should be the crux of any operator’s business plan.
She highlights that while good health and safety practice costs little, and has “far-reaching benefits” for a business, the potential punishments could conversely lumber pubs with a sizeable financial burden.
“Magistrates can now impose unlimited fines, which almost certainly means fines are likely to increase.
“Sentencing guidelines were revised in 2016 and changed the way solicitors defend against prosecutions.
“The new sentencing guidelines take into account culpability, level of harm caused (ie level of injury caused and how many people were exposed to the risk), and the likelihood of harm being caused because of the defendant’s actions.”
Stuart Knill, health and safety general manager at licensed trade stocktakers, auditors and consultants to the hospitality industry, Venners, adds that, in extreme cases, failing to follow regulations could have more severe consequences.
“In some cases it can mean a loss of licence. It can mean putting the lives of your customers and employees in serious danger; it’s not something to be taken lightly.
“In very recent times we’ve seen closures, but in extreme cases falling short on health and safety requirements can mean significant fines and prison.”
Moody Wood adds: “No one sets out to deliberately injure a customer or employee. However, a seemingly minor oversight or complacent attitude can have devastating impacts for the injured person and their loved ones, the business and the operator as the responsible person in the business.”
Knill states that the most common pitfall is, simply, “not complying with the law” and advises pubs be thorough in dealing with increasingly meticulous regulations.
“Our health and safety audits cover 600 questions, which gives you some idea of the amount of things they could miss when trying to comply.
“Things pubs absolutely need to ensure they have are liability insurance, a health and safety policy in place, and that they’ve had a fire risk assessment as well as a general risk assessment for their site.”
Moody Wood adds: “The common pitfalls pub operators fall foul of include not having evidence of adequate and suitable policies, procedures, safe systems of work and training in place for health and safety, fire safety, and food safety; not being organised and complying with the statutory retention periods for record keeping; and not being fully aware of all relevant legislation and changes in legislation that apply to their pub.
“Legislation can often be difficult to interpret and feel quite overwhelming, but there are expert health and safety consultants in the market who are very familiar with the licensed retail sector who can provide varying levels of support and ongoing advice to assist licensees with this.”
Moody Wood adds that pub operators viewing local authorities as “the enemy” and accusing them of trying to trip them up is another common misconception.
“It’s important to engage with local authorities and develop good relationships as they will guide and advise operators on what to do.”
Particular venues at risk
In Knill’s opinion, venues targeting a younger audience, and more likely to stay open into the small hours, have a particularly tricky time jumping through health and safety hoops.
“The types of places that tend to have a harder time are those which market themselves toward a younger generation of pubgoer.
“There you’ll see a drinking culture that maybe stretches later into the evening, sometimes with a lower pricing model, which is usually conducive to a higher level of problems.”
Whoever the target audience is, however, Knill advises that operators seek help where possible and keep tabs on health and safety as an ongoing priority. “Regular audits are the best way to ensure you have the most practical advice and planning to bring your site up to full compliance.
“We encourage our customers to do this at least twice a year, and we also offer a monthly bolt-on to our stocktaking service which helps ensure a more year-round level of compliance.”
Proof of asbestos management
Andrew Whelan, senior associate at property agent Fleurets, highlights that the main sticking point for operators he’s dealt with is over asbestos.
“When it comes to selling a property, the vendor has to prove that any asbestos in the building has been managed,” Whelan explains.
“What we will often find is that the vendor will say there’s no asbestos in the building but they’ve never had a survey to confirm that and because they’ve never had the survey they can’t prove the asbestos in the building is being managed – whether there’s any there or not.
“If the building was built pre-1990, what can sometimes delay a sale is the fact we have to wait for an asbestos report to be done.
“If there is any asbestos identified, it’s got to be proven to be managed or sealed so it’s not harmful in any way.
“Vendors often think that because they’ve never come across any asbestos in the building they don’t need the report, but when it comes to the actual sale, the solicitor acting for the purchaser will ask for proof. The only way they can prove it is to get the report.”
Sources of information
Moody Wood concludes that there’s a wealth of information at operators’ disposal should they need a helping hand.
“The British Beer & Pub Association offers advice and guidance. Operators can sign up to email alerts from the websites of the Health and Safety Executive, Food Standards Agency, Local Fire & Rescue Authority and other relevant bodies; and they can enrol on accredited health and safety and food safety courses.
“There are also expert health and safety consultants in the market familiar with licensed retail who can provide varying levels of support and ongoing advice to assist licensees with this at a low-cost base.”