Super Saturday? The Fourth of July 2020
On 4 July 2020 England will experience the eagerly awaited opening of hotels and other guest accommodation.
It is not simply hotels which can open from Saturday 4 July, but other guest accommodation as well. This includes other income generating accommodation, such as pubs with rooms, student accommodation, holiday parks, bed and breakfast accommodation and guesthouses, as well as vacation properties, caravans and boats available for holiday hire.
This article seeks to highlight the potential issues and risks posed by the ongoing pandemic to those who work within the hotel and leisure sector.
Hotels and those providing accommodation as above will have been working really hard over recent days and weeks to ensure their premises are as safe as they can be and that they have all possible procedures in place to limit risk.
Everyone is expecting changes in how accommodation providers operate - from lots of hand sanitisers being available, remote check in and check out, signage everywhere, some facilities being closed or having limited access and much more cleaning of both public areas and bedrooms, where for example there may be less of the non essential items, and where guests may be provided with a plastic sealed bag of toiletries, rather than these being left in a bathroom. There are likely to be more "one use" items such as shower curtains; and if meals are normally available at the accommodation then there will be more change. Aside from social distancing requirements for numbers being catered for, even F&B outlets are reopened, we expect menus to be more limited (this may allow staff to prepare those meals more safely by being socially distanced when doing so), more room service being available and the buffet breakfast replaced with a 'grab and go' alternative.
All businesses have to consider the risks to their workers, any volunteers or their customers. There is a legal responsibility to protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety, which means that, as an employer, you must think about the risks that can be faced and then do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them.
There is guidance on the Government's website to encourage all employers to carry out a COVID‑19 risk assessment. Industry bodies have worked hard to assist their members. At the same time, even the Government's guidance does state that it is recognised that the risk of COVID‑19 cannot be completely eliminated.
It would be sensible to send that risk assessment to insurers, and make sure they are content with the measures put in place. Employers have a duty to consult their people on health and safety, and in a small business certainly we would encourage employers to consult the workers directly. The people who do the work are often best placed to anticipate and understand what risks there may be and how to work safely to avoid or at least minimise such risks arising.
Businesses are also having to deal with relationship management of the local community, where in some cases there is a negative reaction to accommodation providers opening, and every business needs to be fast of foot in their reactions to how events can quickly change – for instance local lockdowns may affect whether people can travel to a hotel if they reside in a locally locked down area, and indeed the business itself may find itself back in lockdown.
It is wise to have some press statements prepared in advance so that when fresh events mean revised risk assessments, a consistent and proactive approach may be taken.
Sometimes there are additional facilities which are attached to a hotel or other accommodation, and it is important to check that each of those facilities can indeed reopen as well under current Government guidelines. In this regard, whilst some public swimming pools may open in Europe currently they cannot open in England. What of the beauty therapist or hair salon in a hotel or a clubhouse at a holiday park? Risk assessments should take into account all the facilities which may usually be available – and if they will not be open then guests should be advised in advance of their stay.
Whilst organisations will, of course, have both employers' liability and public liability insurance to protect them against a claim by a visitor, paying guest or employee, it is very important that businesses large and small not only carry out regular risk assessments but keep a written record of these, properly dated and recording every change, why it was done and when. Guidance is constantly evolving and, whilst there may be no perfect answer, it is important that business practices can show that they have adapted and taken on best practice at all times.
And remember for any claim it is for the claimant to prove their case. Someone may claim they have contracted Coronavirus as a result of the accommodation provider's breach of duty, but it is anticipated that it may well be very difficult to prove just where they did in fact contract the virus. The individual would have to show on the balance of probabilities that they did not contract the virus elsewhere, for example that they did not have the virus when they arrived at the accommodation.
Ultimately, every claim and the ability to mitigate them and the protection available from insurance is fact specific. While, as we have highlighted, the onus is on an individual claimant to prove their case, there is much that businesses can do, and that we can help them to do, to reduce their risks.