Operators must be alert to all dangers

09 November 2006
Operators must be alert to all dangers

The deaths of two children in Corfu have highlighted safety concerns in the hospitality industry. Kerstin Kühn looks at other issues which must not be forgotten

The tragic death of two children from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning at the Louis Corcyra Beach hotel in Corfu has sent shock waves through the hospitality industry.

The fact that their deaths are believed to have been caused by a faulty boiler or air-conditioning system has highlighted the potential dangers of gas appliances and thrown the spotlight on to operators' obligations to provide safe premises for customers to enjoy.

Since CO is both a colourless and odourless gas, the importance of having equipment regularly checked by professionals can't be overstated.

Anyone flouting the regulations faces fines or possible imprisonment. But there are other, more common health and safety considerations for which hospitality operators are responsible, but which they often overlook.

One of the biggest hazards is fire. New regulations, which came into force last month and apply to all non-domestic premises in England and Wales, have made it the property owner's responsibility to ensure the safety of everyone in and around the premises.

"Fires probably pose the biggest health and safety risk to the hospitality industry," says Linda Martin, programmes director at HCIMA. "Its vital that employers follow their duty of care, use the best equipment available and have heating systems and electrical appliances properly installed and maintained by qualified professionals," she adds.

This point is echoed by Barry Baker, principal inspector at the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), who warns that owners of premises must be aware of their responsibilities under the new laws. "Fires do happen and lots of restaurants and hotels have burnt down," he says. "One of the most common causes of a fire is a build-up of grease or other food residue in ventilation ducting. By regularly maintaining and cleaning ducts such accidents can be avoided."

Another common cause of accidents in the sector, which is often dismissed or overlooked, is "slips and trips". These cause the largest number of accidents in any work environment and cost industry £512m a year, according to HSE figures.

John Dyson, food and technical affairs adviser to the British Hospitality Association, warns: "It's vital for employers to assess the risks of how customers might injure themselves and minimise these hazards." Basic examples of these are keeping exit areas free, cleaning up spillages promptly and keeping customers away from areas where cleaning or maintenance work is taking place.

Employers now face fines of up to £20,000 if found to be in breach of health and safety laws and can be liable for unlimited fees if a case is pursued at a crown court. "Accidents can engender very large payouts, so it's vital employers are aware of their duty of care," says Baker.

Responsibility for health and safety measures ultimately lies with employers, but Wendy Bartlett, director at contract caterer Bartlett Mitchell, says it's also up to everyone in a business to assess risks.

"There has to be a culture of making these issues a key priority across the whole company," she says. "Tiny things can make a huge a difference."

New fire laws

  • Apply to all non-domestic premises in England and Wales.
  • Emphasise preventing fires and reducing risk.
  • Make it the owner's responsibility to ensure the safety of everyone using the premises and in the immediate vicinity.
  • Risk assessments must be undertaken on all premises with five or more employees.
  • Does away with the need for fire certificates.

Main health and safety hazards

  • Blocked ventilation ducts.
  • Badly installed/maintained heating systems.
  • Unchecked electrical equipment.
  • Food hygiene.
  • Dirty, badly maintained premises.

By Kerstin Kühn

E-mail your comments to Kerstin Kühn here.

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