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Frequently asked questions

Getting started

What are the main health and safety issues relating to catering operations?

Individual workplaces will, of course, exhibit their own patterns of risk, but the main causes of accidents and ill health in the catering industry are:

How do I do a Risk Assessment for my catering operations?

A risk assessment is an important step in protecting your workers and your business, as well as complying with the law. It helps you focus on the risks that really matter in your workplace - the ones with the potential to cause real harm. In many instances, straightforward measures can readily control risks, for example ensuring spillages are cleaned up promptly so people do not slip, or cupboard drawers are kept closed to ensure people do not trip. For most, that means simple, cheap and effective measures to ensure your most valuable asset - your workforce - is protected.

The law does not expect you to eliminate all risk, but you are required to protect people as far as 'reasonably practicable'. More information on risk assessment is available at the HSE's Health and Safety made Simple site.

Example risk assessments in the hospitality industries

Further information

The law

What is the main health and safety law applicable to catering?

As an employing caterer, you must:

  • prepare a statement of safety policy and your organisation and arrangements for achieving the policy (written if you employ more than four people)
  • consult employees through safety representatives if your workplace is unionised, or employee representatives or directly if it is not unionised
  • appoint someone competent to assist you with health and safety
  • assess which workplace risks are significant
  • make effective arrangements to control these
  • carry out health surveillance where appropriate (in catering, for dermatitis or musculoskeletal risks if present)
  • set up emergency procedures including those for temporary workers (in catering these are only likely to be for fire and gas leaks)
  • inform and train employees on the risks present and the arrangements in place to control them
  • co-ordinate procedures and work safely with others (for catering these are likely to be landlords, maintenance staff and catering engineers).

What are the hazards?

How do I reduce the risk of slips and trips occurring in my kitchen?

Slips and trips remain the single most common cause of major injury in UK workplaces. Every year in the hospitality industry there are hundreds major accidents caused by slips and trips. The occupations most affected are kitchen assistants, chefs, and waiting staff. The slips and trips in catering webpage provides information for those managing or working in kitchens. It contains free information to download in guidance leaflets, posters, and case studies. There is also information on choosing appropriate flooring and anti slips footwear.

Is there advice for the safe use of cleaning chemicals in the hospitality industry?

Many different types of hazardous cleaning chemicals are used in the hospitality industry. They include washing-up liquids, dishwasher detergents and rinse¬aids, drain-cleaning products, oven cleaners, disinfectants, toilet cleaners, bleach, sanitisers and descalers.

Advice on assessing the chemicals which you use, and controlling the risks posed by them is available in Safe use of cleaning chemicals in the hospitality industry CAIS22.

How do I prevent back pain and other aches and pains affecting my catering staff?

Back pain and other aches arising from manual handling injuries are the most common type of occupational ill health in the UK. In kitchens there are many tasks that, without proper controls, can cause back pain or upper limb injuries that can affect hands, wrists, shoulders and neck.

Lifting and carrying heavy items or pushing and pulling can be a major source of back pain, while forceful or repetitive activities and poor posture can be linked to upper limb injuries.

Advice on preventing back pain and other aches and pains to catering staff can be found in Musculoskeletal disorders in catering and hospitality and Preventing back pain and other aches and pains to kitchen and food service staff.

How do I prevent my catering and hospitality staff suffering from dermatitis?

Work-related contact dermatitis is a skin disease caused by work. It is often called eczema and develops when the skin’s barrier layer is damaged. This leads to redness, itching, swelling, blistering, flaking and cracking. The most susceptible parts of the body are the hands, followed by the forearms and face. It can be severe enough to keep you off work or even force you to change jobs.

Contact dermatitis is one of the main causes of ill health for catering staff (chefs, cooks and catering assistants) with the number of new cases per year being twice the general industry average. Work-related ill health can cost more than twice as much as an accident causing the injury.

You can prevent dermatitis developing with a few simple measures:

  • Avoid contact with cleaning products, food and water where possible, eg use a dishwasher rather than washing up by hand, use utensils rather than hands to handle food.
  • Protect your skin. Where you can, wear gloves when working with substances that can cause dermatitis and moisturise your hands to replenish the skin’s natural oils.
  • Check your hands regularly for the early stages of dermatitis, ie itchy, dry or red skin. These symptoms should be reported to a supervisor, as treatment is much more effective if dermatitis is caught early.

How do I minimise the risk of knife accidents?

What are the risks?

  • Accidents involving knives are common in the catering industry. They usually involve cuts to the non-knife hand and fingers but can lead to injuries on the upper arm and torso.
  • Cleavers are commonly used for chopping and the same controls for knives should be adopted.

Ways to minimise the risk:

Do

  • Train employees in the safe use of knives and safe working practices when sharpening knives
  • Use a knife suitable for the task and the food you are cutting
  • Keep knives sharp
  • Cut on a stable surface
  • Handle knives carefully when washing up
  • Carry a knife with the blade pointing downwards
  • Store knives securely after use e.g. in a scabbard or container
  • Use protective equipment as required. For deboning, it is recommended that a suitable protective glove is worn on the non-knife hand and a chainmail or similar apron is worn.

Don't

  • Do not leave knives loose on worktop surfaces where they can be accidentally pushed off
  • Do not try to catch a falling knife
  • Do not use a knife as a can opener
  • Do not carry knives while carrying other objects
  • Do not engage in horseplay with a knife
  • Do not carry a knife in your pocket.

More information on knife safety including some case studies can be in Safe use of knives in the kitchen.

Maintaining equipment

What maintenance is required for my catering equipment?

Poor standards of maintenance are a major underlying cause of accidents in the catering industry. Including accidents that occur during maintenance work itself and cleaning, nearly two-thirds of accidents investigated in catering stem from maintenance in one way or another. In some cases the problem is a lack of any maintenance at all.

All these accidents can be very costly, both in financial terms as well as in pain and suffering.
Most accidents resulting from poor maintenance involve equipment, but maintenance of the fabric of the building is also involved.

Good maintenance by competent staff ensures that equipment performs well and reliably, and helps prevent accidents. The maintenance work itself must be done safely.

General advice on maintaining catering equipment can be found in Maintenance priorities in catering CAIS12. Specific advice on maintaining gas equipment can be found in Gas safety in catering and hospitality CAIS23.

How do I maintain gas equipment in my kitchen?

The law requires employers in hospitality and catering premises to ensure that gas appliances, flues, pipe work and safety devices are maintained in a safe condition. They should be inspected by a competent person in accordance with current industry practice. Periods between inspections may vary depending on the equipment and its use and should follow manufacturer's recommendations, but as a general rule annual inspections will be a reasonable minimum frequency.

All hospitality and catering employers using contractors for gas work should take reasonable steps to check that contractors have a current relevant certificate of competence. This can be checked by asking to see an individual's Gas Safe identity card.

More information on maintaining gas powered equipment can be found in Gas safety in catering and hospitality CAIS23.

Children and young people

What do I need to do if I employ young people?

A young person is anyone under the age of 18 (please see FAQ on employment of children for information on school age children).

Employers must assess and reduce risks, so far as reasonably practicable, for all employees (regardless of their age). You must tell them what the risks are and what steps are being taken to control them.

If you don’t currently employ a young person, have not done so in the last few years or are taking on a young person for the first time, you should review your risk assessment before they start.

Keep checks in proportion to the environment:

  • For low-risk environments with everyday risks that will mostly be familiar to the young person, your existing arrangements for other employees should be enough and you won’t need to do anything different
  • For environments with risks less familiar to a young person, for example industrial equipment, you will need to manage the risks. This will include induction, supervision, site familiarisation, and any protective equipment needed

More advice on the health and safety of children and young people in catering:

What do I need to do if I employ children?

A child is anyone who has not yet reached the official minimum school leaving age (MSLA). Pupils will reach the MSLA in the school year in which they turn 16. (Please see FAQ on young people for information on the employment of young people over the MSLA.)

The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 and the Children and Young Persons Act (Scotland) 1937 state that children under the age of 14 should not be employed. Restrictions are also imposed on the number of hours that children can work. Local byelaws can make additional provisions or exceptions under certain circumstances so you should check with your local authority.

See the advice on the employment of young people – there are some additional things you need to do if you want to employ a child:

  • provide information to parents or guardians about risks and control measures before the child starts work (this can be done verbally) and
  • decide whether to prohibit children from certain work activities, for example use of machinery such as food slicers and compactors, handling corrosive cleaning chemicals, draining fat fryers and working at height

Children are only permitted to undertake light work. This means work, which by its nature or because of the conditions under which it is performed, is not likely to be harmful to their safety, health or development.

You can decide not to employ a child (or young person) if there is a risk of accidents that it would be reasonable to assume they can’t recognise or avoid owing to their insufficient attention to safety or lack of experience or training.

Factors to consider include:

  • the form, range, and use of work equipment, and the way it is handled
  • how the work is organised
  • the extent of the health and safety training to be provided to young people

More advice on the health and safety of children and young people in catering:

For the law regarding the employment of children see:

Ventilation and temperature

Do I need to provide ventilation in my kitchen?

 Kitchen ventilation is required to create a safe and comfortable working environment. Catering and cooking can produce significant quantities of fumes and vapours as well as large amounts of heat. Ventilation is necessary to remove these and discharge them to a safe external location. This is usually achieved by mechanical extraction via a canopy hood installed over the cooking appliances. The ventilation system should also provide general ventilation throughout the kitchen.

It is particularly important to provide adequate makeup air for gasfired appliances. The lack of an adequate supply of air, and/or incorrect flueing arrangements can lead to incomplete combustion and the accumulation of combustion products such as carbon monoxide.

Further information can be found in Ventilation of kitchens in catering establishments CAIS10.

Updated 2014-02-06