Managing risks to members of the public

Wednesday August 11, 2021

When we talk about workplace health and safety, your first thought is probably for the health and safety of your staff. This is perfectly natural, but it’s only part of the story. As an employer, you also have a legal obligation to keep members of the public safe.

Neglecting this aspect of H&S can have serious consequences, as the details from a recent HSE prosecution showed.

A utilities company was fined £100,000 when a pedestrian died after falling into one of its excavation sites. The investigation found that the company had failed to properly fence off the site before leaving it unattended over a bank holiday weekend. The HSE concluded that the company hadn’t completed a proper risk assessment, meaning that basic precautions were not in place.

What does the law say?

Managing risks to members of the public is covered by Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It states that employers must do everything “reasonably practicable” to ensure that non-employees are not put in danger. The definition of a non-employee covers visitors and contractors, as well as members of the public who happen to be in the vicinity. This legislation applies to both employers and self-employed people.

What are the most common risks?

As with most aspects of health and safety, you should start with a full risk assessment. If your existing assessment doesn’t take public safety into account, you should update it accordingly.

Your risk assessment should identify any potential hazards that could affect members of the public. Some of these will be the same as those affecting staff, while others may only apply to visitors and passers-by. These will vary depending on your working environment, but some common hazards include:

  • Protruding wires
  • Objects falling from shelves
  • Slippery steps
  • Vehicles reversing in outdoor areas
  • Balconies and walkways without railings

When conducting a public risk assessment, it may be useful to enlist the help of a non-employee or a newer member of staff. Taking them on a walk around the site will allow you to see things from an outsider’s point of view, helping you to spot hazards that you might otherwise have missed.

When assessing hazards, consider that members of the public may have a disability which puts them at greater risk; or be temporarily impaired, say, from alcohol consumption. Your control measures should take account of this.

Seasonal risks

For obvious reasons, public risk assessments are more likely to include outdoor areas such as grounds and entranceways. This means that the weather is likely to be a major factor. Common seasonal hazards include:

  • Patches of ice on tarmac and concrete in the winter
  • Fallen leaves in the autumn
  • Damp surfaces after heavy rain

What actions can I take?

Once you have identified the potential hazards, you should come up with ways to mitigate them. There may be simple actions you can take to manage the most common risks to non-employees; actions like:

  • Checking public areas regularly for trip hazards
  • Coating outdoor steps with anti-slip paint
  • Avoiding storing heavy objects above head-height in public areas
  • Putting down grit or salt in the winter
  • Hiring a gardener to clear paths of leaves and other debris

Other actions may be prescribed in specific health and safety legislation.

We’re here to help

An accident involving a member of the public can be extremely costly, in terms of the harm they suffer, legal or financial penalty and the negative publicity. We’re sure you’re keen to do everything you can to protect visitors, but some dangers are difficult to spot from the inside.

We can inspect your site with a fresh set of eyes, so you can be sure no hazards have been missed. Once we have completed our survey, we can prepare a risk assessment and present you with a list of actions you can take to make sure nobody is put in harm’s way.

Contact your local Health & Safety Dept to book a visit.

Sensible Safety Solutions

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