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COVID-19 Advice to businesses: Lock up in lockdown

07 May 2020
We take a look at the measures businesses can put in place to protect themselves against the risk of criminal or civil proceedings being brought against them by trespassers entering vacant sites during lockdown.

The UK has been in lockdown since 23 March 2020, meaning that members of the public are only allowed to leave their home if they have a reasonable excuse. Many businesses have closed their doors and required employees to work from home, or have stopped sales or production. As a result of this lockdown, total crime rates across the country have significantly dropped, but there have still been plenty of reports over the past few months of crimes such as burglary, arson and trespass being committed, which may be linked to increased levels of boredom amongst members of the public. 

With children out of school, young adults in furlough and increased numbers of buildings being left unoccupied as a result of the lockdown, it is likely that there will be an increase in children and young adults entering vacant buildings or trespassing on land in order to look for something to do. This problem has already been acknowledged by Network Rail, who contacted parents and guardians urging them to remind children to stay off railway tracks.

Legal duties

Under both criminal and civil law, employers and landowners have a duty to protect people on their sites, including trespassers. A failure to do so could lead to compensation being payable to an injured person, or a conviction and fine being imposed upon the company in the criminal courts under Health and Safety legislation.

There have been several cases brought in both the criminal and civil courts in relation to children trespassing on land. For example:

  • In 2015, National Grid Gas was fined £2 million after a child was fatally injured having climbed on a gas pipeline situated over a canal and belonging to them. The fine was imposed on the company as sufficient measures had not been put in place to prevent access to the pipe.
  • In 2006, Coventry Healthcare NHS Trust was sued after an 11 year old boy was injured whilst climbing on a fire escape at their premises. Although it was ultimately decided that the Trust was not at fault and therefore not liable to pay compensation, the court made it clear that building owners with knowledge of unguarded dangers on their site could be liable if an injury is caused because the danger was unguarded. The court also made it clear that there are greater obligations on building owners to guard dangers if they know children occupy the vicinity. 

It is therefore essential that businesses ensure their buildings are properly secured and will not attract children and young adults. This is especially important if any part of a business' premises could be classed as an obvious attraction to errant children, typical examples being accessible roofs and bodies of water, such as reservoirs etc.

Practical measures

The starting point for any business is to re-assess the risks associated with the site/premises in light of it becoming vacant. This is where the business should assess the 'attraction' of the site for trespassers.

Once this assessment has been made, the business will consider and implement control measures to manage that risk. To this end, there are many practical measures businesses can put in place to protect themselves against the risk of criminal or civil proceedings being brought against them by trespassers or Regulators (such as the Health and Safety Executive) during lockdown. Some key measures that businesses could implement to protect themselves include:

  • Erecting signage, for example "no trespassing" signs or signs to warn people of dangers within buildings such as electricity, fragile structures etc.
  • Where electricity is still running in the building, turning off the electricity supply where possible to prevent any accidents.
  • Installing CCTV and monitoring it regularly.
  • Installing security lighting as a deterrent for trespassers.
  • Hiring a security guard (if appropriate).  It may be particularly useful late in the evenings or at night to have someone guarding or doing a "walk round" of the premises. Given the cost of hiring a security guard, this may be a measure implemented only where trespassing is known to be occurring and the risks to which trespassers are exposed on site is high.
  • Ensuring that there are no easy entry points. For example, businesses should consider erecting high fences/walls where appropriate, and any gates should have sufficient locking facilities so that it is difficult for them to be broken into.  It may also be helpful to put bollards up at site entrances.
  • Arranging site visits to look for any signs of trespassers having entered the premises (e.g. broken windows, vandalism, graffiti etc.). Businesses should ensure that all these visits are recorded.
  • Arranging visits to site to check that preventative measures are still in place. For example, carry out checks of surrounding entry points to ensure they are sufficiently safe and ensure that there are no gaps in fences surrounding the property. Regular monitoring of this kind could indicate that a business has taken reasonable steps to prevent people entering their premises.

If you would like advice relating to issues in this article, please get in touch with Simon Belfield or Joanne Witheford.

Further Reading

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