Many kitchens, restaurants, bars and cafeterias in the catering industry are extremely busy so there is a significant emphasis on employers to protect all employees. Before we go into detail regarding claiming compensation for catering accidents it is worth noting that not all accidents will lead to compensation claims. If an employer can demonstrate they took all reasonable precautions to avoid accident and injury then any compensation claim may well be refused. On the other hand, if you have been injured in a catering accident and it was clearly down to negligence then you could have a good claim for compensation.
Common Accidents In Catering
It is impossible to put together a full and comprehensive list of common accidents in catering because they are so wide and so varied. Over the years we have seen a number of common catering accident claims which include:
- Burn injuries due to hot food
- Burn injuries due to hot liquid
- Cuts and lacerations due to knives and other sharp objects
- Burns due to hot ovens and pans
- Trips, slips and falls due to ill maintained premises
- Musculoskeletal disorders due to lifting of heavy equipment
- Skin disorders due to prolonged contact with detergents, food ingredients and cleaning products
It is not difficult to get an idea of the potential dangers in modern catering establishments and when you have large numbers of people working at relatively fast speeds, it is hard to appreciate the number of challenges. There are many victims who have suffered injuries as a consequence of negligence by their employer who may have no idea that they could legally have claimed compensation.
Slips, Trips And Falls
We know that slips, trips and falls make up a high percentage of all injury compensation claims and this is no different in the world of catering. Kitchen assistants, chefs and waiting staff tend to be those most at risk in commercial catering businesses although unfortunately many of these injuries could easily have been avoided. It is therefore imperative that an employer considers ways in which potential risks can be reduced in instances such as:
While the vast majority of chefs, kitchen assistants and waiting staff are trained to clean-up spillages as they happen, there will be occasions during busy periods where this may not be the case. It is not only the obligation of employers to maintain a clean and tidy environment but staff also have a role to play.
Water Overflow Or Leaking Pipes
It goes without saying that water overflows or leaking pipes can be a serious issue in causing catering accidents. Aside from the fact an individual may bump their head, graze their arm or even break a bone, they may also fall onto hot ovens, knives, etc. While many people may assume that a degree of excess water on kitchen floors is just a “working hazard” this is not the case. If you’ve slipped and been injured on a wet floor because of negligence you could claim compensation.
Badly Maintained Floors
All flooring should be well maintained and any repairs undertaken as soon as possible. Where there are issues with damaged floors the relevant signage should be placed around these areas until they are repaired. It is also essential that kitchen premises remain as uncluttered as possible at all times thereby reducing trips, slips and falls.
Carrying Hot Liquids And Food
While it is dangerous enough carrying hot liquids and food out of the kitchen into public areas there is also an inherent risk when emptying deep fat fryers and similar equipment from boiling hot oil. It is not difficult to see the potential dangers here and the need for training and clear instructions regarding disposal.
Legal Obligation Towards Employees
While there is an array of specific acts of Parliament relating to individual industries, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is an umbrella act which basically places a legal obligation on employers to maintain the well-being of their employees. Specifically for the catering industry this will include issues such as:
- Initial and ongoing training regarding health and safety regulations
- Safe storage of potentially dangerous equipment, fluids and ingredients
- Supplying safety clothing such as gloves, uniforms, etc
- Provision of safety guards on dangerous equipment
- Regular risk assessments
- Allocating specific tasks to those with the relevant experience
- Avoiding contact with ingredients, chemicals and detergents as much as possible to avoid possible skin conditions
- Using equipment, where possible, to lift heavy machinery
- Ensuring staff have sufficient rest periods
- Reducing working pressure as much as possible to avoid frustration, tiredness and potential accidents
While many of these issues should be common sense when it comes to health and safety, especially in areas containing dangerous machinery and hot liquids, it is worth reminding ourselves that it is the obligation of employers to undertake the above actions. Many people may not be aware but there is also an obligation for staff to act in a manner which does not endanger themselves or other individuals.
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Proving Negligence In A Catering Accident Claim
Central to all catering accident claims is the need to prove negligence on behalf of one or more third parties in pursuit of compensation. In areas such as catering there are obvious risks and unfortunately even the most vigilant of employers cannot totally eliminate these dangers. If an employer, or indeed potentially negligent member of staff, is able to prove that they took all reasonable steps to avoid accident/injury then it could be difficult to make a claim for compensation.
There will also be occasions where victims have been partially responsible for a catering accident which led to their injuries. There seems to be a general consensus that in these situations there is no case to answer and no point in pursuing compensation. In reality, even if the victim was partially responsible for a catering accident which led to their injuries, employers or another third party may also be partly responsible. In this situation it is still possible to pursue a compensation claim although any payment would be reduced to reflect the degree of negligence on behalf of the victim.
What To Do In The Event Of A Catering Accident
Whether you are a chef, kitchen assistant or waiting staff, in the event of a catering accident the first thing to do is to seek medical assistance. A medical examination will confirm whether treatment is required and also ensure that your medical records are updated to reflect the catering accident, injuries and any resulting treatment. Medical records can be used in a court of law when pursuing compensation and they are held in particularly high esteem because they are created by unconnected qualified third parties.
It will certainly depend upon the severity of the injuries received but in a perfect world the injured party should begin to gather evidence as soon as possible. This may include photographs of the area in which the catering accident occurred, photographs of the aftermath and equipment involved and any witness statements from those who saw the incident. If possible it would also be useful to have a look at the company’s accident book to see whether similar incidents have happened in recent times. This could show whether the company was aware of potential dangers and took limited or no action to prevent them in the future. At the first opportunity it would also be very useful to put together a timeline of events pre and post the incident which will allow the courts to obtain a wider picture in the event of legal action.
Catering Accident Claim Time Limit
As with any catering accident claim there is a three-year window during which the victim can make a claim for compensation. In most catering accident claims the three-year period will begin on the date of the incident which led to the injuries. Where possible, it is highly advisable to pursue legal action sooner rather than later as time does tend to fade memories and relatively strong cases can be weakened by uncertainty surrounding evidence. It is also worth noting that if the victim was under the age of 18 a compensation claim can be pursued by their parents or legal guardians or, once they turn 18 (the three-year period will begin when they turn 18), they can start a claim themselves.
While the majority of injuries will be immediately visible, musculoskeletal injuries and skin disorders (such as dermatitis) may not be diagnosed until further down the line. In the event that an injury is diagnosed at a later date, directly related to a catering accident, the three-year time limit will begin on the day the diagnosis was received by the victim.
Appointing A Legal Representative
Trips, slips and fall accident in catering premises are common reasons for the pursuit of injury compensation but there are so many other potential dangers. As a consequence, the majority of legal firms specialising in personal injuries will have experience in this area and be able to advise you accordingly. A solicitor will review your evidence and timeline and arrange further medical examinations if required to determine the extent of injuries received.
Lodging A Catering Accident Claim
Once an agreement has been reached with a solicitor to start a catering accident claim they will forward a copy of your evidence, timeline and compensation claim to the courts. A copy of this information will also be made available to the defendant. Where there is an obvious case of negligence for the catering accident the defendant may wish to settle before it goes to court which limits their legal costs but also allows the victim to receive compensation earlier. There will be catering accidents where negligence is rejected, or there may be more than one negligent party, in which case the catering compensation claim will likely go through the courts. The judge will consider all evidence and make a ruling and where applicable decide on a compensation award.
There are two basic types of compensation involved in a catering accident claim which are known as special damages and general damages. Special damages are simply recompense for expenses incurred as a consequence of the injuries received and funding for injury-related costs going forward. These will include issues such as:
- Loss of earnings (past and future)
- Medical expenses (past and future)
- Modifications to the home
- Additional transport costs
As special damages are simply recompense for expenses incurred, or funding going forward, there is no degree of discretion or variation. However, there is a degree of discretion/variation when it comes to general damages which are compensation for issues relating to the injury, including:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental trauma
- Life changing injuries
The Judicial College regularly issues a summary of historic compensation payments grouped by injury type and severity. While these guidelines have no legal standing they offer a very useful reference point for courts and insurance companies when looking to calculate catering injury compensation awards. The degree of variation/discretion ensures that any award will reflect the specific circumstances surrounding an individual case.