A Complete Guide to Managing Health and Safety in Vacant Properties
Properties are emptying at an alarming rate. And while an empty property has less contents and no risk of damage by occupants, it’s still vulnerable to health and safety issues which can lead to significant loss of property value, huge bills, and exposure to litigation and compensation claims. This guide covers some of the common risks associated with vacant properties and what you can as the owner or manager to minimise the risks.
Duty of Care
Property owners and managers have a duty of care to anyone who accesses the property. This obligation applies to anyone who comes within the boundary of the property, regardless of whether they were invited into the premises or they’re trespassers. You could be held liable for anyone who sustains an injury while at your property.
Insurance companies consider vacant properties as high risk due to the associated risks. Property owners should inform their insurer as soon as the property becomes vacant as per the “change of occupancy clause.” If you fail to do this, you may risk having your property not being covered in the event of theft or damage. You need to ensure all terms in the contract are being complied with.
This is an essential step to securing and managing empty properties. It helps the owner identify elements which can put the premise at risk and implement the necessary mitigation measures. These elements usually vary depending on the location of the property, whether the property is domestic or commercial, and whether the vacancy is short- or long-term. Some of the most common risk factors worth considering include:
Vacant premises are vulnerable to intrusion by trespassers and squatters both inside and outside the property. This usually results in theft and damage of property. Every year, over 15,000 tonnes of metal is stolen across the United Kingdom. To minimise risks of intrusion, ensure all access points are secured anything that could attract opportunist thieves is removed from the premises. You should also stop any regular activities which could draw attention to the vacant premise.
Intruders could also sue if they have an accident, especially when they try to access the premises through unexpected access points, such as roof lights. Therefore, it’s important to secure even the unexpected access points.
- Potential Harm to Invited Visitors
Vacant premises can sometimes have visitors, such as prospective buyers, estate agents, contractors and surveyors. To minimise this risk, ensure all visitors are aware that the premise is vacant and ensure they’re provided with the necessary risk management tools, such as PPE, hard hats, and sensible footwear. Relevant fall protection, such as post and chain barrier, to enhance the safety of anyone who’ll be accessing the property.
- Weather Damage
Poor weather damage can result in loss of value, quick deterioration, and additional hazards to anyone entering the property. Weather damage can be in form loose tiles and unstable chimneys, falling masonry from weathered brickwork, or burst pipes from freezing. Ensure that the property is well maintained and always inspected after periods of poor weather.
A fire could occur by arson or accident, such as service failure if they’re not switched off. Ensure to remove combustibles in and around the property and turn off all utilities.
- Health Hazards
Infestations can occur as a result of intruders discarding rubbish and syringes or lack of property maintenance. Presence of human or animal faeces can create significant health hazards while rubbish can increase the risk of vermin. To minimise such risks, ensure the property is secured against animal inhabitation, squatters, and trespass. Also, arrange for the removal of all rubbish and treatment against vermin infestation.