An elderly couple came to an open home which had a path covered in moss that led to the entrance way.  On the way out of the open home, the elderly woman tripped and injured her arm.  The family of the elderly woman later contacted the agent threatening legal proceedings for failing to adequately advise the couple of the risk of slipping on the path.  The agent contacted their lawyer to find out if they in fact should have made attendees aware of any health and safety risks at the open home.

Does Health & Safety legislation apply to open homes?

The answer is yes, it does, and therefore the agency should have had a health and safety plan in place for open homes.  This should be made known to any visitors to the property.

Significant fines have been imposed along with substantial reparation orders where customers and visitors to work places have been injured or killed.  These are into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  “Work place” includes anywhere where someone is working, so includes a private home when agents are working there doing an appraisal or holding an open home.

When holding an open home, there could be a large number of members of the public visiting and this can make it difficult to manage the health and safety aspects of the day.

A Health and Safety Plan – what does it entail?

The Health and Safety at Work Act requires you to have in place a health and safety plan.

The below are questions that your agency should be considering when setting up the health and safety plan for your workplace:

  • Does your company have a health and safety plan?
  • Does it cover open home type situations?
  • Is your plan current?
  • Is it up to the job?
  • What training is given to staff on identifying and eliminating hazards?
  • Are people following it (not just giving lip service to it)?
  • What checks are made to ensure agents are following the plan?
  • What is in place to make sure the plan is kept up to date?

The obligations to ensure the safety of staff, customers and visitors apply in all work places and not just those which appear to be dangerous.  All employers and all staff must take all practicable steps to identify all hazards in the workplace.  Once identified then the hazards should be eliminated if possible.  If they cannot be eliminated then they need to be minimised.

When an agent is visiting a home they need to note all hazards that could result in injury.  You may be surprised at the number of hazards there are in every home or work place, no matter how seemingly risk free, such as overloaded shelves, cleaning chemicals in the kitchen and laundry or the lack of guard rails over decks or stairs.  They may seem innocuous, but what if children are brought into the open home?  Each has the potential for harm and should be identified and eliminated or minimised.

Specific questions that you will need to consider and guard against for open homes include:

  • What steps will you require the home owner to take to eliminate the hazards?
  • What steps will you take to eliminate or minimise hazards?  Eg, a sign on the slippery path, or steep stairs.
  • What rules will you have in place regarding supervision of children?
  • What limits will you put on numbers on the property at any one time?
  • What plan is in place to deal with an accident if it arises?
  • Do agents carry First Aid equipment and are they trained in its use?

What if you don’t have a Health and Safety Plan?

If you don’t have a Health and Safety plan, or you don’t take proper steps to act in accordance with it, you can be liable for substantial fines.  Work Safe, if it prosecutes, could seek for fines to be imposed and also substantial reparation orders (for example, for lost wages and for the harm suffered by the victim or family).  Reparation orders can also run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. The size of fines depend on many factors including the level of culpability, the prior history of offending (ie has this happened before), the circumstances of the offender (eg ability to pay and remorse, acceptance of liability, early guilty plea).

Make sure you take the safety of visitors seriously and ensure your health and safety plan is current and up to standard.  A failure to take the basic steps could end up costing someone either through an injury or by way of a fine if there is an accident or a near miss.

It is important to be aware that you cannot contract out of your health and safety obligations. For example, asking your open home attendees to sign a waiver would not be appropriate.

If you would like us to visit your agency to discuss Health and Safety issues, please contact Gillian Scanlon at

Alan Knowsley
Health & Safety Lawyer