Pokemon Go has become a worldwide phenomenon in recent weeks, with people of all ages being attracted to the game. However, reports have appeared of gamers putting themselves in danger whilst playing the game or causing hazards for others. As the game shows no signs of going away soon, questions have been asked about how safe the game is, and what needs to be done to control the risks.
What is it?
Pokemon Go is a free “augmented reality game” for smartphones from Nintendo. Users play by using their phone to catch various creatures from the Pokémon franchise, which are visible through the app and have been “placed” electronically in locations by the game. The game uses GPS tracking to plot the location of a user, and users go from location to location to hunt these creatures.
Whilst the game has been praised in some circles for getting users to exercise more, there have been incidents where users have wandered into restricted or dangerous areas in search of these creatures. Children have been reported trespassing on railway lines whilst playing the game, and outside the UK there have been reports of drivers playing whilst driving, pedestrians wandering into road tunnels and even players entering minefields whilst playing the game.
The game can be problematic for employers, particularly when the characters are placed on commercial premises.
What do I need to do to protect my business?
Firstly, you can always ask for Nintendo to remove your premises from the locations that the game uses. That should prevent the majority of players from attempting to enter your premises in search of Pokémon, although some more persistent players may still wander on site whilst playing the game. These players are less likely to be aware of site hazards and be paying more attention to the game than to their surroundings, so it is difficult to anticipate what they may do. The easiest way to cover your responsibilities under Health & Safety law is to take precautions as if they were any other kind of trespasser. Any measures you take to protect visitors (authorised or unauthorised) from site hazards should be sufficient to deal with any roaming players.
Your employees may also be distracted at work by the game, whether by playing when they should be working or just playing the game on their breaks. Just like members of the public who play the game, your employees may not be paying the appropriate amount of attention to site hazards if they play whilst on site. A simple reminder to only play the game in designated break areas may be sufficient if you already plan to remove your business premises from the game, but if it becomes a particular problem then you may need to consider more authoritative action.
Alternatively, you may view this game as an opportunity to drum up business, as some enterprising restaurants, coffee shops and other food outlets have done. Advertising your business premises as a location that the game uses can be a good way to bring in new customers, but you should still risk assess and take precautions against visitors who may be more focussed on the game than the hazards around them.
However you choose to deal with this new phenomenon, it is becoming increasing difficult to ignore the game’s influence. Perhaps in years to come it will become little more than a curious relic in company risk assessment records, but for now it is far better to be prepared.