Who is responsible for safety in your holiday home? You guessed, you are. Safety generally starts with a risk assessment. A risk assessment isn’t all that daunting, it just means essentially a close look at what could potentially go wrong and taking action to make sure that it doesn’t. However it isn’t a five-minute job and owners need to be prepared to spend some time working through a very careful risk assessment, covering fire especially,but also other dangers to guests, staff, contractors and visitors.
EASCO provides guidance to members on conducting a fire risk assessment and the same techniques can be used for other dangers – although fire is obviously one of the most serious and potentially life-threatening situations that can arise in a holiday cottage. The other common life-threateners are electricity and gas. Less common are ponds and swimming pools, and falls over sheer drops or into well shafts. Whilst life-threatening hazards such as bare wires on your toaster cable come close to the top of the priority list don’t ignore the hazards that could cause an elderly person to trip and fall, for example unstable paving stones on steps, or a host of other issues that could cause harm to a guest.
Whilst you probably don’t have to by law, it is best to write down your risk assessment. If you don’t, it will be hard to remember it and even harder to prove to the authorities that you did it properly in the first place. It is important to remember that a risk assessment is specific to a particular property and is not a form-filling exercise of “tick the boxes”. Forms can help but can’t cover everything. Don’t be daunted by safety – it is usually straightforward and in a typical holiday home compliance will usually be quite easy and mostly based on common sense. You can use a consultant to advise you, of course, but a consultant cannot take responsibility on your behalf. Your local Fire Service may offer free advice but remember that they are also the enforcing authority.
Remember too that you are running a business and whilst you want to make your holiday home a home-from home it is nobody’s home but a commercial venture. Your gas and electrical installations must be safe and you will need a testing regime to ensure that they are. Similarly, all the equipment that you provide needs to be safe to use.
If there’s a pond in the garden, either net it properly to prevent a small child falling in, or fence it off. If large, the pond should have a life-saving ring and rope at hand.
It is illegal to discriminate against disabled people and you need to ensure that you have made reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled guests. This also makes commercial sense – with a growing population of elderly people, who are more likely to be disabled than younger people, you want to be able to welcome as many guests as possible. There are many very simple things that you can do to make a property easier for people with a disability to use, and we are not just talking wheelchair users here. Is your information pack printed in tiny print that some people cannot read? Is furniture arranged so that doors do not open fully? Are there unnecessary steps or would a simple wooden ramp make the difference between accessibility and in-accessability? Is your tin-opener suitable for use by people with arthritis? Do your smoke alarms have a flashing light for deaf visitors?
You will need an access statement if you’re going to be assessed under the National Quality Assurance Scheme and it is a good idea to have one anyway. It just sets out information about access that a guest may find useful. This can be as simple as the distance to the bus stop, whether that route involves any steps, and whether the buses on that route can carry wheelchair users as passengers.
It is also illegal to discriminate when you are accepting bookings. You may not like dogs, but assistance dogs should always be accepted, for blind, deaf, or other disabled people. It is illegal to discriminate against gay or lesbian guests so make sure your brochures and websites use non-discrimminatory phraeseology and don’t have rules like “couples only” unless you make it clear that same-sex couples are treated equally.