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Why Injuries Happen in the Catering Industry and How to Avoid Them

By Richard Powell at YouClaim

Despite the number of fatal and non-fatal workplace-related injuries in the UK decreasing by 45% and 51% respectively over the last 10 years, many businesses are still guilty of breaching Health and Safety Executive (HSE) legislation – and the results can prove costly.

On 1st February 2016, HSE introduced new sentencing guidelines, which included tougher penalties for companies found in breach of legislation, including hefty fines and/or up to two years’ imprisonment for employers. Since the new guidelines have been introduced, the value of fines collected has increased by 80%, jumping from £38.8 million in 2015/16 to £69.9 million in 2016/17. For some companies, fines issued could be the difference between staying in business or facing bankruptcy. Therefore, if you are an employer, you should ensure procedures are reviewed and practical measures are in place to mitigate any risk of injury to your workforce.

Why are employers not fulfilling their health and safety duties?

A recent survey carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that a quarter of businesses in the UK see the complexity of legal obligations as a major difficulty when addressing health and safety issues. Other issues include a lack of resources – either staff or time (19%), the required paperwork being too difficult (17%), lack of money (15%) and lack of expertise/specialist support (10%).

However, in addition to the HSE’s findings, we would also contend that competency is a vital skill when managing health and safety in the workplace, and every level of an organisation should be involved. Directors, line managers and workers should receive training to be made more aware of risks and understand what action needs to be taken when a hazard arises.

Businesses aren’t taking in the full picture

Reports highlight that over the last three years, days lost due to injury have increased by 36% from 4.436 million in 2013/14 to 5.532 million in 2016/17. Additionally, many organisations do not know the exact cost of accidents in the workplace. According to the HSE, few businesses bother to examine costs when investigating an incident, assuming that losses are wholly recoverable through their insurance premiums. This is not always the case, and that can have a detrimental effect on the company’s bottom line.

Although variable depending on an employer’s insurance policy, uninsured and unrecoverable costs can include sick pay and equipment repairs. Other losses that are less concrete (but no less important) can include damage to workforce morale and loss of business reputation, leading to a lack of new investment and repeat business.

Common accidents in the catering industry and how to avoid them

Catering has one of the top five highest workplace injury rates of any industry in the UK. In 2016/17, the rate for fatal and non-fatal workplace injuries in accommodation/food services was 2,460 per 100,000 workers, which is significantly higher than the overall average. Catering businesses should do everything they can to manage health and safety risks in the workplace. To do this, employers need to consider what might cause harm to people and decide whether enough is being done to prevent that harm.

The most common causes of accidents in the catering industry include:

Safe use of knives in the kitchen

Accidents involving knives are common in the catering industry. To minimise the risk, employers should:

• Train employees on safe working practices for knives
• Ensure suitable knives are used for the food that is being cut
• Keep knives sharp and store them in a safe place
• Make sure knives are used on stable surfaces
• Use protective equipment as required, such as wearing a glove while deboning livestock

Slips and trips

Slips and trips are a major cause of injury in UK workplaces, with kitchen assistants, chefs and waiting staff among the most vulnerable to this type of accident. Risk assessments should be carried out to ensure actions are in place to mitigate risks resulting from food spillages, water overflow or leaks, poor or damaged flooring, trip hazards, wet or dirty floors, and carrying hot food and liquid.

Musculoskeletal disorders

Back pain and other aches arising from manual handling injuries are one of the most common types of injury in the UK. There are many tasks in the catering industry that, without proper controls, can cause back pain and upper limb injuries. Risk assessments for manual handling tasks should focus on the nature of the task itself, as well as the load, working environment and the worker’s capability, and should seek to minimise the jeopardy face when carrying out these roles.

Health and safety in the workplace should always be a concern for both employers and employees. In reality, it may be impractical to prevent every imaginable hazard, but no-one wants to think they could have done more if an accident were to take place.

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