Health and Safety for your property in France needs to be based on a common-sense evaluation. As with the provision of any service or product, there is a duty of care placed on the provider (owner) of rental accommodation. This is basically to ensure that appropriate steps have been taken to guarantee (in so far as possible) the safety of those using the facilities, and this includes warning guests of any potential hazards.
With some obvious exceptions – swimming pool safety for example – it is about managing the level of risk involved. Whilst the obvious areas of concern centre on items such as electrical installations and gas supplies, many more minor and seemingly harmless items need to be checked thoroughly on an on-going basis.
A sound health and safety practice is one that is reviewed and monitored constantly to ensure that all is well. The importance of this upkeep (or “duty of maintenance”) cannot be overstated.
Inside the Property
A property with a steep or spiral staircase must include mention of this in its advertising and all must have a securely fixed banister rail. Open-tread staircases must have sufficiently deep treads and conform to current European regulations. Descriptions can be both accurate and attractive, using wording such as “feature open-tread, wooden staircase with polished steps” for example. A stair-gate should be available whenever young children are to be accommodated.
Rooms or bedrooms with only three closed sides (usually a first floor mezzanine type) must have secure railings/balustrades which toddlers and small children cannot slip through. They should be at least 1m high and vertical bars no more than 10cm apart – the same applies to railings around balconies.
Where a working fireplace is available to clients, the chimney should be swept every year by a qualified artisan, and receipts for this work kept for insurance purposes. A traditional fireguard should be provided, as well as a suitable metal bucket for hot ashes and equipment with which to sweep and clean the grate/hearth.
All glazed doors must be safety glazed when below 150cm from floor level, and full length glazed doors must have warning stickers at both adult and child height. Similarly, windows lower than 80cm above floor level should be fitted with toughened glass and a window lock, and upstairs windows lower than 1m above floor level should have restraining bars across them.
Floors must never pose a tripping hazard with coverings in a good clean and level state of repair Slippery floors should be pointed out to clients as something to be wary of, and where parquet/wood block floors do exist, they must be smooth and well laid. Wires to lamps, stereos, televisions etc. must not cross areas where people walk, as they pose a tripping hazard.
Walls should have any protruding and potentially dangerous items removed (e.g. redundant metal objects such as shelf brackets, radiator supports etc.). This is especially relevant to older properties.
Your property must be thoroughly clean for every client’s arrival with special attention paid to bathrooms, toilets and kitchens. Clients should be supplied with all necessary cleaning products to ensure they can clean round before departure (ensure no hazardous items are within reach of children). Supply the correct cleaner if your property has a septic tank.
All kitchen areas and worktops should be clean and showing no cracked or unhygienic surfaces. Food storage areas should be hygienic and well-ventilated. Check also that the fridge is functioning properly (temperature, defrosting, seals etc.) and that there are no signs of rodent/insect infestation.
The most important aspect here is the fire retardant nature of furnishings inside the house. Most new furnishings bought in the EU since 1990 will be made in accordance with the current regulations for that country. However it is the owner’s responsibility to verify this by checking labels for “carelessness causes fire” or its international equivalent.
It is also important, however, to check that chairs and tables are secure and sturdy and are not likely to give way if used at all heavily.
Cots, high chairs and bunk beds should all be sturdy, purpose built and in good condition. Check to ensure there are no weak joints or sharp objects protruding. Paint should not be chipped or lead-based. Bunk beds must always be securely affixed to walls for rigidity and ladders must be in a solid and sturdy condition. The furniture and furnishings inside the property should be fire retardant unless antique items.
Outside the House
All paths and walkways should be well lit, well maintained and free from hazardous objects. Descriptions in the literature/advertising must make clients aware of any streams or rivers that border or run through the grounds and similarly of any ponds (fenced or unfenced).
Gardens/grounds described as being enclosed must have no gaps in the fences and should be secured by latches etc. so that they are “child proof”. Similarly, check that any septic tanks, holes in the ground or wells are securely covered.
Garden implements and any potentially dangerous metal tools should be securely locked away out of clients’ reach and access should be restricted to any outhouses/barns that are unsafe for children to play in, with an explanatory note displayed in the property.
Garden Furniture and playground equipment should be in good repair and of a safe design; parts that are sat on or handled must be free of sharp protrusions. Bicycles made available to clients (either free of charge or paid for) must be in a good state of repair and regularly maintained. Similarly, boats/canoes or other craft available to clients must be checked regularly and equipped with buoyancy aids.
These items are to be used at the guests’ own risk, and this must be explained to them upon their arrival. Notices should be put up to that effect where the items are stored.
If you have an in ground swimming pool, then you must follow the rules for its safety. There must be a safety device in place that conforms to AFNOR standards. The CSC (Centre de sécurité des consommateurs) recommends the installation of a pool safety fence or a barrier, as it is the only passive security device. All the other approved means of security (alarms, rigid safety covers and shelters) need to be actively turned on or physically closed every time the pool is vacated and as such should be seen as supplementary to a physical barrier.
In order to minimise the risk of fire and damage that ensues, property owners should ensure that every precaution is taken in terms of providing safe electrical equipment, sound gas installations, fixing smoke alarms (as minimum of one per floor of the house) and making sure that furnishings etc. are fire retardant.
Smoke alarms should be checked using the test button between each rental.
Assess whether there are reasonable means of escape from the property and that fire safety instructions in English are clearly displayed with emergency phone numbers.
To restrict the spread of fire, equipment to extinguish it must be provided – i.e. fire blankets and powder extinguisher. Verify the “use by” and “service” date on fire extinguishers and take necessary action to replace or service.
Gas, Electricity and Water Supplies
Many properties use bottled gas, and written instructions should be available covering the procedure for changing cylinders.
Be aware that some guests may never have used a gas cylinder before.
There is a duty of maintenance placed on the owner with regard to the quality and safety of the electrical installations within a property. We recommend that all electrical items are serviced at regular intervals, and that you keep a record of the dates when items have been tested to show that you have complied with your duty of maintenance.
You cannot be held responsible for equipment that guests bring with them. However, you should advise them that no sockets should be overloaded with multiple plugs and you should not supply multiway adaptors or trailer sockets yourself.
It is the responsibly of the owner to ensure that there is an uninterrupted supply of clean water to the property at all times. The property’s hot water system must not be so hot as to scald. Although seemingly an unlikely cause for concern, this is surprisingly common.
Last but not least – keep a checklist to show monitoring of all Health & Safety functions (replacement of batteries in smoke detectors, extinguisher tests, equipment services etc.) and make sure you have a First Aid Kit in your property, which is checked regularly and the contents topped up between guests. Also provide a functioning torch and some candles and matches – all stored out of children’s reach.
I hope this check list for your guidance, shows what relatively simple procedures can be put in place to ensure that you as owner have acted correctly in issues of Health and Safety! I am sorry that it is rather a “dry” article but it is a serious subject – if you have any questions resulting, then please don’t hesitate to contact me when I will be glad to help!
•With thanks to Sally Stone