Recent headlines have reported the fatality of four-year old Austen Harrison at a Hugo Boss pop-up shop in Bicester Village. The tragedy occurred in June 2013 when the infant’s father was trying on a suit in the store’s changing rooms. A mirror that had been left free-standing without any fixings fell, crushing the child and causing irreversible brain damage. He died four days later.

On 4 September 2015, at Oxford Crown Court, Hugo Boss was fined £1.2million for its health and safety failings. The Court heard how contractors had hurried to convert the pop-up shop from a Burberry store that had been there previously. There had also been numerous near misses with mirrors at other stores of the fashion brand across the country.

Since the event, Hugo Boss has sought to remediate the failings identified during this investigation. But for retailers everywhere, this devastating incident ought to provide a timely reminder of the importance of ensuring a safe environment both for members of the public and for staff. The consequences for failing to do so can be serious and far-reaching.

Health and Safety Policies
It is a legal requirement under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 for all employers to have a Health and Safety Policy in place. Any business with five or more employees must have a written statement of this policy.

As well as being a statutory duty, there are a number of positive commercial benefits for employers in planning an effective Health and Safety Policy. These include:

  • Reducing costs and financial risks associated with accidents at work, threat of legal action, employee sickness absence and staff turnover
  •  Increasing productivity amongst employees who will feel healthier, happier, more valued and better motivated
  • Maintaining a positive reputation within the industry and amongst consumers and stakeholders for high standards of corporate responsibility

Responsibility for Safety Issues

It is also crucial that businesses demonstrate top-level, visible leadership on safety issues. For smaller enterprises, this may be owner led. For larger businesses, responsibility should be given to a member of senior management and health and safety as an item should appear regularly on the agenda for board meetings.

By allocating ownership of safety issues, companies can be more effective in setting targets to define what the business is seeking achieve. This strategy should include:

  • Ensuring health and safety arrangements are adequately resourced
  • Implementing effective training and maintenance programmes and timely reporting of accidents and absence rates
  • Consulting employees on issues that may affect their health and well-being.

Failing to Meet Your Obligations

Companies which fail to meet their obligations are legally exposed. The courts are now able to impose unlimited fines for the most serious breaches. In the worst case scenario individual employees or officers of the business may face a prison sentence for failing to meet obligations. The reputational damage caused by cases of this kind can be profound.

Businesses should be particularly mindful of pop-up outlets, temporary premises and one-off events, where because of timescales and costs, health and safety checks may be overlooked or be undertaken less rigorously. Vigilance should also extend to contractors and others working alongside permanent staff.

To be effective, a health and safety strategy needs to be:

  • comprehensively planned
  • rigorously implemented
  • consistently monitored; and
  • regularly reviewed.

For further information on this topic, please contact our Partner Joanna Chatterton.

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