Occupational hazards - how can you keep land and premises safe?

14 May 2015

How far do landowners have to go to keep their land and premises safe? It is a wide-ranging question and the answer will be very fact specific, but some general guidelines are possible.

In the news recently was a report of the operators of Newcastle racecourse, ARC, being fined for failing to fill in holes and repair the ground on a racecourse where a fence had been removed. As a result a racehorse, Hitman Harry, had to be put down due to injury caused by putting his foot in one of the remaining holes. ARC have admitted liability and will be paying a sum to the horse's owner for compensation.

How far do landowners have to go to keep their land and premises safe? It is a wide-ranging question and the answer will be very fact specific, but some general guidelines are possible.

The relevant laws as a starting point are the Occupiers Liability Acts 1957 and 1984. The 1957 Act imposes a duty on "occupiers" - usually those in control of the land or premises- to take reasonable care to ensure premises are reasonably safe for the purpose for which visitors are there for. A visitor can be someone expressly invited, impliedly invited, as in going into a shop, or someone with a right to be there, such as the police. The duty may be higher towards children who cannot be expected to take as much care for themselves, or lower for experienced visitors, such as professional mountaineers on an indoor climbing wall.

The 1984 Act imposes a duty of care towards unauthorised visitors, i.e. trespassers, where the owner of the land or premises knows a danger exists there and that visitors may still enter even if unauthorised. This could include, for instance, a deep, unfenced, natural pool.

Some help is at hand with comments made by the judge in the case of Clancy -v-Carenza 2007, where the claimant tried (unsuccessfully) to claim against a riding school for injury caused by an allegedly overhanging branch at a jump on an open country course. He said: "....the English countryside is not manicured so as to be free from hazards; the course would hardly be a preparation for hunting if it was .......it is not risk-free ". He went on to say "Of course, an instructor must take steps to reduce the risk to what is reasonable and acceptable..." 

That seems the key. Risks must be managed. In a livery yard, for instance, stables must be in good order, as must the fencing and electrics and the school surface if the owner or manager has control of these. They would not be responsible for the state of the tack worn by the livery's horses, so if an accident was caused that way, that is the horse owner's problem. Equally, the owner or manager may be able to insist on hats being worn while riding on their premises, but not out on the roads, as they have no control over that.

There are some defences to a claim - accepting a risk, or possibly clear warning signs of a hazard, but best to avoid it in the first place.

[This blog post first appeared as an article in the April 2015 edition of Lincolnshire Today magazine]


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