The importance of Health
& Safety Management
Whilst there is no questioning the value of appointing a property management professional to look after your property, self-management is certainly an excellent option for the organised lessee. If you can afford the dedication and time that being a Residents’ Management Company (RMC) director calls for, the Right to Manage (RTM) route can be quite rewarding on both a personal and financial level.
Taking on this responsibility however, can also have its pitfalls and often through ignorance and naivety RMC directors can find themselves falling foul of the law. Responsibility for the management of safety within communal areas is often considered only passively by RMC directors, with the necessary duties remaining a mystery and legal obligations unfulfilled.
To most individuals, safety management is often viewed as unnecessary red-tape, full of complicated jargon that is often seen as too costly to consider even investigating. But it needn’t be this way. In fact, it becomes much more complicated and costly if your safety management is found wanting when the enforcement authorities come knocking, and whilst there is the pang of conscience bestowed by moral obligations, it would be naive not to acknowledge that it’s the uninsurable fines and potential prison sentences for RMC Directors & Landlords that’s really helping to drive compliance with safety standards.
If you are unsure what is meant by safety management in respect of communal freeholds, then don’t panic as you are not alone. By the end of this article, you should be armed with enough information to take the initial step on the road to becoming health and safety compliant and reducing some of that surprisingly extensive liability that you had taken on (perhaps unwittingly!).
Here is a breakdown of the key factors that apply to safety management of the communal areas of residential blocks and where they will apply:
- Asbestos: Applicable for all buildings built prior to the year 2000
- Fire Risk: Applicable to all Internal Residential Communal Areas for England & Wales
- Contractor Safety: Applicable when appointing contractors to maintain your building
- General Risk: Applicable at all residential communal parts across the UK
- Legionella Risk: Applicable where stored water systems are communal (serves more than one demise)
- Building Equipment/Asset Maintenance: Management of Lifts, Fire alarms, Lighting etc. required at all communal areas wherever present
- Safety Management Processes: Inspection regimes, general policies and management required for all residential communal areas
The first and foremost fact that you will need to appreciate is that, when it comes to risk management, the regulations are rarely prescriptive and most requirements are enforced based upon the findings and management of Risk Assessments. Even the process of Risk Assessment itself is entirely subjective, allowing each competent assessor to apply their own interpretation and application of the regulations and the multiple guidance documents which often can seem to contradict each other.
This may sound like a broken and chaotic system but it is actually quite the opposite, being deliberately designed in this way in order to promote sensible and bespoke safety management that is specific to each situation.
So, it makes sense that the first step on the road to effective safety management at your property will be a General Risk Assessment of the communal areas completed by a competent and independent professional whose remit will be to identify any significant Health & Safety risk and provide recommendations to resolve these risks.
Specific risks, such as Fire or Legionella require a separate and focussed assessment; however, many general health and safety risks will also tend to apply to Fire and so Risk Assessments concentrated on Fire are often combined within a General Risk Assessment to avoid any duplication.
Selecting your competent Risk Assessor and ensuring they are independent of any works they recommend is important. Select a competent risk assessor who doesn’t also offer remedial works within their list of services and this will help you avoid uncertainty and potential unnecessary expense. Remember: Once it appears in the risk assessment report document, it becomes a legal requirement for you to fulfil.
Last but certainly not least; manage your report. Too many have fallen foul of the belief that just by holding a current risk assessment report, this somehow protects its subject building making it safe. This is a dangerous misconception that has led to serious incidents and heavy fines.
To achieve this, all you need to do is read the document and action any points in order of their priority. A good risk assessor writes their report concisely, providing short, useful & informative action points including plenty of photographs. Managing your reports should be easy. Avoid a tick-box style risk assessment and never be afraid to ask the assessors questions: no risk assessor should ever provide advice without having the competency to fully explain their findings and recommendations to you.
Risk Assessment is only the beginning of the process and a good General Risk Assessment will be your instruction manual that opens the doors to a measured decrease of your liabilities and a safer communal area of your property.