John Farrow writes:
The Rucksack Club position on re-opening Huts 09.07.20
The law places liability for personal injury squarely on hut operators, declaring any agreement by an individual to accept the risk of contracting Covid-19 whilst using a hut, null and void – in other words preserving their right to make a claim for compensation should they contract the virus from staying in our property whatever they have signed up to, or possibly whatever rules a hut operator has established. This not a matter of someone with the virus visiting a hut but of a second individual catching the disease because of the first’s visit.
The Club has a legal duty to prevent that by putting in place every safeguard required by the growing body of rules to prevent the spread of the disease. And if it fails the Committee, particularly if the effect is life changing for the individual and/or their family, might, if charges were laid or a claim made, be required to appear in court. That could be on criminal charges for not following the rules, and/or in the civil courts for damages. Settlements including legal fees can top £10M where the damage is serious and lasting. That’s rare but not impossible and it would be catastrophic unless we are properly insured.
The allied question is whether the Club’s insurance arrangements through the BMC do/will in future cover Covid related incidents, and if they do, will they provide an adequate level of support to match the occasion’s possible costs. It is the Club’s Committee that is required to answer any charges, or accusations of a failure in our duty of care to provide a safe environment in a hut. In practice that would be the officers. We need to be clear what exactly the Limited Liability status we have means should that position arise.
Then there are the practicalities in our circumstances of being able to meet the rules and guidelines now being issued by three separate administrations. Social distancing in communal properties like ours and for perhaps all mountaineering huts is not achievable with a full hut of mixed household groups. And now the issue of airborne contamination, and not just droplets, is being raised as a possible vector particularly indoors with poor ventilation. Ensuring the separation of use and sterilising of utensils and surfaces and cleaning toilets and washbasins after every use is similarly unattainable in that setting. Use of showers is considered inappropriate. Thus only a single co-habiting group – now two non-variable households in England – can be in occupation at any one time. Then between parties either the building needs a thorough sanitising – and you can’t use bleach since it kills the good bugs in cess pits! – or a clear 72 hour gap must be left between groups using the premises. Any individual using the premises in that period would mean the clock had to start again.
How do wardens fit into this pattern of arrangements? They can’t visit when any group is in residence. They have to wait 72 hours after any use, and then there has to be another vacant period should they visit and stay. How would a warden visit/supervise the property in those circumstances? Hotels, to consider the most straightforward example of another residential setting, have the space to establish one way systems to separate staff and guests, can check guests are who they say they and record contact details, can take guests’ temperatures, ensure cleaning protocols are followed and so on to satisfy government (and likely insurance) requirements. We can’t and importantly don’t want to go to these lengths, wardens duties must remain at their present levels. The only secure way of preventing unauthorised use by members is to double lock the entrance doors. How then would authorised users get in?
We may find answers to all of these questions in due course and will be happy to open the huts for some and then extended use as soon as that is viable and the Club remains secure and protected in both legal and insurance aspects to avoid the possibility of litigation. The Committee’s position is one of caution, recognising the commonly held expert view of the likelihood of a second wave, and hoping the R will sink sufficiently below 1 so we can have more confidence the disease is being contained, not to mention having a world beating track and trace system in place. What we have determined is to continue with is the upgrading of the High Moss ablutions, whose purpose is to establish a more hygienic regime and is now at the tender stage.