Liability risks – tourism to public places

Risk Matters - Autumn 2021

With limits on international travel boosting tourism within WA, it is essential to consider public safety at local government facilities, places, and spaces.

The COVID situation has compelled Western Australians who normally travel overseas to explore the state, with popular local amenities and tourists destinations now consistently operating at or over capacity. People are also flocking to regional areas in record numbers and exploring remote sites.

This is a trend that is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. Whilst it is a welcome boost to our local economies, it also places pressure on existing infrastructure and the resources required to manage this infrastructure.

There has never been a more relevant time than now to consider public safety at local government facilities, places, and spaces. Managing public safety reduces the likelihood of visitors suffering harm and as a consequence reduces your exposure to associated liabilities.

Two of the common liability themes we see emerging from public spaces relate to:

  • The condition of infrastructure – poorly maintained facilities can pose defects and hidden hazards to users.
  • The lack of information available to visitors – people who are inexperienced and unfamiliar with local conditions are unable to make informed risk decisions.

Here are some of the things you can do and questions you can ask that will assist in managing your liability exposure in this current climate.

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Step up the frequency of inspection and maintenance routines in line with increased usage

  • Ensure all inspections and works are documented for future evidence.
  • Look at bringing forward plans for asset replacement where infrastructure is showing advanced signs of wear.
  • Don’t hesitate to remove/isolate infrastructure or access where there is a risk of harm or damage, or highlight hazards so they are obvious.

Review signage at existing sites

  • Does the signage provide appropriate information (including warning of known and new risks)?
  • Does the information consider the broad range of potential site visitors/users?
  • Is the signage aligned to relevant standards?
  • Has the nature of site use changed – are there new uses?

Consider emerging and new sites

  • Are you aware of areas of unsanctioned public access or emerging areas of use?
  • Does the area present risks to the users that may not be obvious (e.g. locally known hazards, hidden hazards, past land uses)?
  • Is it possible to restrict or prevent access?
  • Is management by signage a reasonable option? If unsure, LGIS can help you assess this.
  • What is the impact of use on the environment and surrounding land/properties?
  • Is formalising this area for public use a better option over preventing access?

Of course, liability risk is not the only risk to be aware of – there is often a reputational risk element. The quality of infrastructure and information available affects the visitor experience. This can influence a person’s decision of whether to return to the site or promote it in a positive light to others.

We recognise not everyone will have the capacity to manage this increased demand on public areas. If you need advice concerning a related issue or assistance with prioritising and managing risk in a particular area, please contact the LGIS risk and governance team on 9483 8865 or your regional risk coordinator.

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