Wake-up call: Are managers liable for injuries on their premises?

20 December 2013
Wake-up call: Are managers liable for injuries on their premises?

The Problem
I am the manager of an independent hotel looking to provide live entertainment for hotel guests over the Christmas period. I would like to hire a portable theatre group to perform a pantomime on the hotel's premises, but I am concerned about adhering to health and safety regulations.

If a pantomime performer was injured on the hotel premises - as a result of falling down a ladder or tripping up on the stage, for example - would I be liable?

The Law As the 'promoter' of the event and the occupier of the premises in which the entertainment is performed, the hotel will be bound by the Occupier's Liability Act 1957 to take such care as in all the circumstances is reasonable to ensure its visitors (which will include both the audience and the company performing the panto) are reasonably safe. However, in appropriate circumstances the hotel may be able to rely on certain defences within the Act, namely:

•Occupiers are entitled to rely on visitors protecting themselves against special risks ordinarily related to their activity.
•Occupiers will not be automatically liable if the danger was caused by an independent contractor where it was reasonable to engage such contractors and the occupier has taken reasonable steps to ensure that the contractor was competent and had worked properly.

Expert Advice Pantomime productions continue to increase in popularity, and competition for audiences is so intense that companies are under pressure to push the "spectacular"
to new heights. But with spectacle can come risk.

Perhaps more than any other type of theatrical production, each of the components of a successful pantomime can, if not planned properly, incur health and safety risks. For example, unpredictable pyrotechnic effects can cause burns or damage to costumes; elaborate costumes can restrict movement and visibility; being the back end of a pantomime cow is no fun when you can't see where you're walking or you're working in such close proximity to a volatile individual. Slapstick scenes with buckets of slosh create a slippery floor which can lead to performers slipping and injuring themselves, and throwing sweets and other objects into the audience can, in extreme cases, injure audience members.

While an injured panto performer may be regarded as accepting some risk, they are still entitled to assume that certain safety checks are in place and that the premises are safe.

Consequently, if a performer is injured due to the state of the hotel's premises - for example, tripping over a fraying carpet - then the hotel would probably be liable, whereas if they were injured in an inadequately planned panto, their employer (the panto company) would probably have to accept the blame.

It is also not unknown for certain published (not necessarily 'adult') pantomimes to contain material which some may find offensive.

To Do Checklist

•Scope out the space and any potential hazards in your premises that could harm both those performing and watching the pantomime.
•Know what the panto company has planned.

Ask to see a copy of the script or any footage of the performance. Request any changes to anything you are uncomfortable with.

•Satisfy yourself that the panto group is reputable (have they been used by others?) and have appropriate employers' liability/public liability insurance.
•Ensure that both the pantomime performers and audiences are made aware of fire exits in the hotel.

Beware! Unless hotel managers take the time to properly select a company and satisfy themselves in respect of the risks involved, they and their insurers could be liable for thousands of pounds in compensation if accidents happen.

Contact Peter Forshaw is partner at national law firm Weightmans LLP

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