Bar flies

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With an increasing incidence of violence towards staff, owners of pubs, bars and clubs have to ensure that they take the right approach when dealing with conflicts between staff and customers. Noel Walsh explains

Business surveys last year reported increases in incidents in which hospitality staff were subject to abuse or assault. While the majority of such incidents arise from angry customers or troublemakers, longer licensing hours and a drinking culture mean the role of door supervisors, and the establishments that employ them, are in the public eye.

In September 2005, it became compulsory for all door staff to hold a Security Industry Authority licence. The aim of this government scheme was to try and regulate the security industry, ensuring that all operatives and their internal managers have a basic understanding of their responsibilities and encourage good conflict management skills.

Failure of any licensee to ensure that door supervisors and their internal managers hold the necessary licence and undergo a criminal record check, may result in insurers invoking a policy exclusion clause leaving the licensee exposed to substantial damages claims.

Licence training

Although training for the SIA licence provides door staff with a grounding in conflict management, door supervisors have been known to step beyond their training and apply excessive and unwarranted force with both tragic and costly effects - leaving some insurers facing hefty claims costs.

Licensees can be held liable to pay damages for injuries inflicted by their staff, even if reasonable steps were taken to reduce the risk of violence occurring. In the case of Mattis v Pollock, the employer of a nightclub doorman who paralysed an individual while outside the boundaries of the establishment was found to be vicariously liable for the actions of his employee.

And, in February, Colin Ashmore was awarded £219,000, having successfully sued Rock Steady Security after sustaining severe head injuries when punched by a door supervisor in Edinburgh.

The doorman's employers defended the claim on the grounds that he had acted in self-defence, and had only taken defensive action in the light of Mr Ashmore's aggression. It was also argued that on the basis of public policy, Mr Ashmore should not be awarded damages because the injury he sustained arose from his own act of aggression. They believed that if any award of damages was to be made, it should be reduced to reflect provocation.

The trial judge, having considered witness evidence and closed circuit television footage, rejected the self-defence and public policy arguments but accepted that the doorman had been provoked and, therefore, reduced the compensation by 20%.

Licensees can take steps to ensure that staff, and in particular door supervisors, act within the law and wherever possible keep physical intervention to a minimum. Apart from ensuring that door staff and their internal managers hold the appropriate licence, a detailed assessment should be undertaken as to when and why violence occurs within their premises. Measures can then be introduced to reduce the risk of violent injury to, and from, staff.

Physical intervention

Such steps can include training on physical intervention and how to handle difficult customers; ensuring staff have a clear understanding of their roles; and considering additional security measures such as enhanced CCTV and improved lighting.

In order to carry out risk assessments, it is important that licensees consult staff and have in place adequate systems to record incidents. Should an incident occur, licensees should ensure that useful evidence is retained - CCTV footage, incident reports and statements of witnesses.

This information could be invaluable to police and adjusters in making their enquiries, and is essential if the incident is taken to court. Persistent troublemakers can be handed an Anti-social Behaviour Order, Exclusion Orders or be banned from buying alcohol for three years under section six of the Licensing Act.

In addition, licensees who contract out to external security firms may not necessarily escape civil liability, although they may avoid the need for a manager to hold a SIA licence.

In Hawley v Luminar Leisure and ASE Security Services in January, the Court of Appeal agreed that the actions of a doorman, whose punch resulted in brain damage to a customer, was the responsibility of Luminar, the company he was contracted through ASE to work for.

Day-to-day control

The decision was based on the fact that Luminar had retained day-to-day control, as it was responsible for the doorman's actions; where he was to be posted; who he reported incidents to; and which customers he should admit.

As such, licensees should regularly review their arrangements for door supervision to determine who is responsible for supervision and training, and who is responsible for intervention training. If their security requirements are contracted out, the terms and conditions of the contract and what insurance arrangements are in place should be clear.

Extreme care needs to be taken with regard to the extent of insurance cover as well. Policies vary considerably, and may exclude cover for deliberate or criminal acts by door supervisors and members of staff. If in doubt, licensees should take advice from their brokers as to the extent of their cover.

Civil claims arising as a consequence of violence are on the increase and, therefore, it is advisable that licensees do not delay in taking appropriate steps to protect their staff and customers. This can be achieved by ensuring that physical intervention is kept to a minimum, and staff are trained and appropriately licensed.

- Noel Walsh is head of workplace safety at Weightmans Solicitors.

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