Lately we have discussed a few of the ways in which employers can decrease the risk of the operation of their business in order to minimize the chance of injury to employees and other parties.

Today we’re going to take a look at the roots of Health and Safety as defined through the principles that developed under the common law (case law).

Under the common law of negligence, the development of rules, such as the neighbor principle, has made us liable for those who will be affected by our actions. Although the cases do not necessarily involve events managers, their message is universal and still applicable under the civil law today.


The first definition of negligence came from the case of Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks where it was defined as the omission to do something that a reasonable man, guided upon those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do.

In this case, a water company installed a pipe too close to the surface and it froze in winter. This cut off the supply of water.

In order to establish negligence, it must then be shown that (1) A duty exists between the parties. (2) That duty has been breached. (3) That the breach of duty has resulted in damage.

Duty of care

The term “Duty of Care” was defined by what became known as the neighbor principle in the case of Donoghue v. Stevenson.

This is a famous case where a woman became ill after drinking some ginger beer that contained the remains of a decomposed snail.

The case made it clear that you must take reasonable care to avoid acts and omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbor. A neighbor is defined in the case as persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts and omissions which are called into question.

Applying this to, say, events – Your neighbors are your staff, including volunteers, contractors, performers, caterers, guests, and anyone else you can think of that you ought reasonable contemplate them!

The specific employer-employee duty of care was recognized in the case of Wilsons and Clyde Coal Ltd v. English 6-years after the advent of the neighbor principle.

It recognized that staff should have proper and safe plant and equipment, safe systems of work, with adequate supervision and instruction, safe premises, including safe access and egress and safe and competent employees.

An employer can discharge their duty by the exercise of due care and skill.

For those who know the Health and Safety Act 1974, s.2 is the statutory provision which was developed with a great deal of reference to Wilson and Clyde Coal Ltd v. English.

Standard of care

The standard of care that you must afford your employees is “so far as reasonable practical”.

In the case of Latimer v. AEC Ltd, an unforeseen flash flood left a greasy film across the floor of a factory. The factory operator covered the vast majority of the floor with sawdust, but was unable to cover the whole of the factory due to insufficient amounts of sawdust.

It was held that it is important to balance the risk against the measures necessary to eliminate it. The clean up was not a quick task, and the temporary fix of sawdust was as far as was reasonable practical in the circumstances.

As you may recall – we discussed this about Health and Safety planning a few weeks back. Health and safety is a risk-based subject – the greater the risk, the higher the standard of care.

Risk assessments

In the case of General Cleaning Contractors v. Christmas, a system of working was developed which involved climbing windows to clean them without the use of ladders.

When a window closed on the fingers of one of the cleaners – Mr Christmas – and he fell and injured himself, he sued his employer.

It was stated in the case that “It is the duty of the employer to consider the situation, to devise a suitable system, to instruct his men on what they must do, and to supply any implement that may be required.”

Similarly, It is the duty of an employer to give such general safety instructions as a reasonably careful employer, who had considered the problem presented by the work, would give to his workmen.”

The case was a foundation for what we now know as health and safety risk assessments. It echoes the sentiments in Wilson and Clyde Coal Ltd v. English.

Although we have discussed some of the history, the rules that came from these cases are not necessarily handled under those cases.

The profound effect of case law on the development of health and safety at work is evident in the phrasing and action of certain statutory provisions.

The test for negligence is presently defined much more sensibly than the neighbor principle now – In the case of Caparo v. Dickman, a three-part test was established to determine a duty of care. For a duty to exist, the risk must be reasonably foreseeable, there must be appropriate proximity (employer-employee, party-guest and event organizer, etc), and it must be fair and reasonable to impose a duty (public policy test).

I would hope that a little bit of understanding about the law on negligence may make you think more about your neighbor. In the events industry, everyone wants to have a good time. I’m sure you’ll consider your staff, attendees, contractors, and others are the just that – staff, attendees, contractors, and others! – But remember, they are your neighbors – Oh, and they can sue you. Take care of your neighbor!


Craig Ineson is a law graduate of the University of Liverpool, current student of international business law at master’s level, a passionate restaurant reviewer, and experienced content writer.
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