4 Duty of Care Obligations for Building Owners

Sept. 24, 2018

It’s your responsibility to keep everyone in your building safe, whether they’re employees in an owner-occupied facility, tenants in a leased building or event attendees renting out part of your space. Know your duty of care toward the people in your building.

How prepared are you to mobilize in a crisis?

When a crisis happens in your building, you’re required to do “all that is reasonable and prudent as a professional to keep your group safe,” explains Brenda Rivers, president and CEO of Andavo Meetings & Incentives and author of The Meeting & Event Risk Management Guide.

This responsibility is known as your duty of care, and the extent to which you can be held liable for your occupants’ safety hinges on foreseeability, or the probability that a harmful incident could occur based on past experience. That experience could include:

  • Past incidents in the area, such as criminal activity
  • The frequency, temporal proximity, vicinity and cause of prior injuries in the area
  • Human experience and common sense

“The bottom line is that today’s world is a world with random acts of violence that happen everywhere and unprecedented weather disasters that can hit a building, not to mention the crises like fire or medical emergencies or power outages,” Rivers explains. “If there was damage to a person or personal property damage and the building owner or facilities team was looked at for being negligent, they would need to show that they had a process and a written risk mitigation manual and they followed the standards.”

Related: MGM Sues Mandalay Bay Shooting Victims, Denies Liability

You have four basic obligations to meet your duty of care.

1) Duty to Investigate

Assess the current state of your building as it relates to emergency readiness.

You’re probably already doing this somewhat to make sure that your life safety and security systems are up to snuff. Your ongoing investigation should include things like:

  • Existing emergency protocol
  • Weather crises that are common in your area
  • How you’ll respond to medical emergencies and power outages
  • Fire protocol
  • First responders and how to contact them
  • Whether to have on-site security (and whether to have them work 24 hours a day or only at night)
  • How prepared you are to handle various potential crises

Next, conduct a vulnerability study to find places where your plans need more work.

The study will account for your location, neighborhood, city, the profile of your tenants, how many disabled occupants you have, and other areas that may leave you vulnerable in a crisis.

Include a written summary in a risk mitigation manual that you update annually.

“Based on the results of your inquiry and your vulnerability study, you then ask what are the roles and responsibilities of the building owner, managers, security team and maintenance team,” Rivers explains. “Somewhere in your written manual, you need to define who’s in charge in a crisis and who mobilizes when there’s any kind of threat, weather issue or need for tenants to shelter in place. Who in the building makes the decision to call local first responders?”

2) Duty to Inform

Based on your vulnerabilities, what information do your tenants or occupants need to keep themselves safe? What information does the owner need to make the best possible decisions?

“If there was damage to a person or personal property damage and the building owner or facilities team was looked at for being negligent, they would need to show that they had a process and a written risk mitigation manual and they followed the standards.” - Brenda Rivers

“The owner needs to know if you don’t have enough insurance or need to invest in another staff person because you’re understaffed and can’t keep up with your safety and security policies,” says Rivers.

3) Duty to Recommend

Following your duty to inform, you’ll make recommendations to the building owner or other decision-makers based on your facilities expertise and the results of your investigation. Depending on your findings, your recommendations might include:

  • Whether to buy additional insurance and what kind
  • Training that the staff needs and how often
  • Drills for fire, active shooters, bomb threats and other emergencies

4) Duty to Prepare

This duty is the foundation of your risk management strategy. Fulfilling your duty to prepare means that you take everything you’ve learned and use it to construct a crisis response plan.

“This includes the roles and responsibilities of the crisis response team and a communications strategy, without which everything else could just blow up, and a recovery process,” Rivers says. “This is where you write a manual that you also give to your tenants and prepare them with as much information as you need to, like whether there are AEDs in the building and how you’re meeting ADA compliance.”

Ready to build your risk management playbook? Discover the critical elements of risk mitigation with our sister publication Meetings Today.

Two handpicked articles to read next:

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Buildings, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Building Better Schools

Download this digital resource to better understand the challenges and opportunities in designing and operating educational facilities for safety, sustainability, and performance...

Tips to Keep Facility Management on Track

How do you plan to fill the knowledge gap as seasoned facility managers retire or leave for new opportunities? Learn about the latest strategies including FM tech innovations ...

The Beauty & Benefits of Biophilic Design in the Built Environment

Biophilic design is a hot trend in design, but what is it and how can building professionals incorporate these strategies for the benefits of occupants? This eHandbook offers ...

The Benefits of Migrating from Analog to DMR Two-Way Radios

Are you still using analog two-way radios? Download this white paper and discover the simple and cost-effective migration path to digital DMR radios that deliver improved audio...