How the hospitality sector can mitigate liability risks

With the festive season fast approaching, South African businesses operating in the hospitality industry need to ensure that all precautions that can reasonably be expected of the business are taken, not only to protect their customers – especially in the event of alleged liability cases due to negligence – but also to safeguard themselves financially ahead of the busy period.

Simon Colman, Underwriting Executive at SHA Specialist Underwriters, says that whilst the risk of litigation cannot be eliminated completely, when a business implements risk management into their daily operations they will not only demonstrate to their customers that they care about them, but they will also be able to mitigate the possibility of potentially devastating losses.

“Companies that operate within the hospitality sector are traditionally very busy during the December holiday period. This includes restaurants, game lodges, hotels, travel agents and tour operators, adventure sports providers and bed and breakfast providers.”

Colman provides the below tips for business owners in the hospitality sector to ensure that they adhere to basic risk management:

  • Ensure that signage and disclaimers are visible and understandable: Liability relating to injuries or ‘slip and trip’ risks can be minimised by displaying plain language signage at the reception to warn consumers of possible hazardous areas. If there are any unusually high risk areas they should be cordoned off and adequately signposted. Effective maintenance also goes a long way to ensure that things like broken tiles and slippery surfaces are attended to before any customers are injured.
  • Let the customer sign a contract with indemnity: Indemnity forms are not only there to protect the business, they also serve as a further warning to customers and guests, highlighting the specific risks that they might be undertaking. Businesses that provide tours which include adventure sports or wild animals should have their customer sign these forms. As there are various risks involved in hosting public tours, including road accidents, sports injuries or even animal attacks – it is vital that the business ensures that they protect themselves and make their clients aware of any such risks. It is important to note that indemnities do not guarantee a successful defence, should it come to that, but it is much better to have them in place than to have nothing.
  • Train staff to provide excellent service: It is vital for hospitality staff to be regularly trained to adhere to specified requirements. This would include the cleaning and janitorial staff who are polishing the floors all the way to the employee who straps your guests into their bungee jumping harnesses. Even the slightest of errors can lead to serious injuries and even fatalities. Further to this, tour operators who are not familiar with the area they are entering while they have a group of people with them could lead to various risks and possible injuries.It is crucial that the staff of these exposed businesses are experts in their field to minimise the risk of injury to clients.

    It is also essential that there are staff members at the business premises at all times with first-aid training. There is always the risk that a client might suffer from minor cuts or bruises that need to be bandaged, but there is also the risk of a client getting a stroke or heart attack while on the business premises. In these unfortunate cases it is vital that the client is handled in the best possible way until they can get access to a qualified medical professional.

  • Consult your insurance broker regarding policy options: As each business has its own unique risks, there is no standard policy that could cater for all individual requirements and therefore all businesses need a personalised insurance policy. It is advisable that business owners within the hospitality sector contact their insurance broker and their attorney to ensure that they adhere to regulations particular to their environment and have applicable policies in place, ahead of the busy festive season.

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