Our annual UK travel and tourism seminar series started by exploring the duty of coroners to produce ‘prevention of future death reports’ following inquests into the deaths of holidaymakers overseas. What are the implications for tour operators?
The seminar followed on from Senior Coroner, David Hinchliff’s report, dated 18 September 2015. This raised various issues concerning the deaths of Robert and Christianne Shepherd, aged six and seven, whilst on holiday in Corfu in 2006.
September 2015 report
The inquests into the deaths of Robert and Christianne Shepherd concluded that the children died from carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of an incorrectly installed and badly maintained boiler in hotel bungalow accommodation.
It was found that the hotel had misled/lied to the tour operator about the gas supply to the hotel bungalows. However, the tour operator had breached its duty of care. The resort audits were inadequate and incomplete and did not follow the tour operator’s health and safety policy or training manual. In addition, inadequate training had been given to the resort staff.
The first point to note in relation to the Coroner’s report is the wide scope of organisations to which it is addressed, including the tour operator (Thomas Cook Group), three Secretaries of State, the Federation of Tour Operators and the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).
Risk of future deaths
The Coroner highlights in his report various matters of concern which lead him to the opinion that “there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken.”
The key action points set out in the report are as follows:
- Introduction of an online accessible central register to compel all tour operators to record and maintain up-to-date information relating to energy sources and the annual service history for all hotels, apartments and holiday premises used by them.
- Tour operators to work in collaboration with each other and actively share information in relation to health and safety issues.
- Steps to be taken to increase the awareness of travellers of carbon monoxide dangers and the benefits of portable carbon monoxide detectors.
- Tour operators are not to delegate responsibility for health and safety checks to inexperienced representatives but should use suitable qualified and experienced specialists. They should devise and/or subscribe to health and safety accreditation ratings.
- Robust internal procedures should be present within the structure of every provider of hotels, apartments and holiday premises for management, supervision, support and training in respect of health and safety issues.
- Brochures to be clear and to refer to carbon monoxide dangers and safeguards.
- The Government to press for stronger European legislation on gas installations and carbon monoxide safety in order to improve safety standards across Europe. This should include requiring the installation of carbon monoxide detectors by tour operators and holiday accommodation providers.
- Travel industry to provide their own initiative to the Government (with Thomas Cook Group to be at the forefront).
- ABTA to update the relevant section of its Technical Guide for Accommodation Suppliers to include the Coroner’s recommendations at its next review in 2016.
The Coroner’s report is not legally binding and only lists his findings. However, in light of the Coroner’s findings and recommendations, tour operators are advised to consider the following questions:
- Are you following your health and safety policies and procedures? The Coroner came down hard on the tour operator in this case, due to its failings in this regard.
- When were these last reviewed?
- Do you carry out an audit of your safety management system and health and safety manual on an annual basis?
- Are your resort staff and representatives who carry out health and safety inspections and checks adequately qualified and experienced? Do you use specialists?
- Do you do what you say you will do in your brochures and other promotional material?
The organisations are due to respond to the Coroner’s report by 16 November 2015, setting out details of the action taken or proposed to be taken and a timetable for this.
Thomas Cook Group published its response on 2 November 2015. This followed a review it had commissioned by Justin King CBE of its customer, health, safety, welfare and crisis management practices. The response confirms details of measures already implemented, immediate actions and further steps to be taken.
It is to be hoped that, in light of the Coroner’s report and the responses to this, stronger measures will be put in place across the travel industry to protect the health and safety of holidaymakers, particularly in relation to the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.