When you start your own business, the health and safety aspect can feel daunting – there’s so much to remember. With catering, although specific rules and regulations will apply, depending on the type of business and how many staff you’re employing, there are six main areas that you need to pay attention to:
1. Slipping and Tripping:
It’s probably the most likely accident you’re going to come across in catering – slipping on spillages, tripping on things that aren’t where they should be
Look out for leaks, make sure that you and your staff know to mop up any dropped or spilled food immediately, and be extra vigilant about uneven or bad quality flooring that could cause trips. Boxes, bags, cabling, these are all hazards that could quite literally ruin your day, so be aware of them when you’re rushing around trying to get things organised.
It might seem flippant, but when you work in an industry that uses sharp implements you really do have to be a bit careful. The essentials with knives are:
- Training – which knife to use for which task, safe working practices and sharpening
- Carrying – don’t carry knives with the blade pointing upwards
- Protection – use gloves and protective aprons for tough jobs like de-boning and be careful when you’re washing up
- Storage – store knives safely, and don’t leave them lying on worktops
3. Musculoskeletal problems
You and your staff could be at risk of back injury if there’s a lot of lifting and carrying involved in your day to day duties. It’s essential to get staff up to scratch on proper lifting and carrying techniques to avoid injury.
Repetitive work such as chopping, grating, slicing and kneading can also lead to problems with upper limbs, which can affect wrists, arms, shoulders and neck too. You can download a free advice sheet from the Health and Safety Executive that will give you tips on minimising the risks of musculoskeletal disorders in the catering industry if you need more guidance.
4. Burns and Scalds
When catering staff are in a hurry, and dealing with hot surfaces, it doesn’t take too much imagination to work out what could go wrong. The best way to avoid the risk of nasty burns is by using gloves and being careful around hobs, ovens and grills.
There’s a lot of cleaning and washing up involved in a catering company and the chances of you or one of your staff members coming into contact with something that might cause a reaction are pretty high. Dermatitis is considered one of the risks of the job, but the chances of a nasty reaction are reduced if you take the right preventative measures.
- Keep your hands away from direct contact with food, water and cleaning products wherever you can. Use a dishwasher rather than washing up by hand, if you do have to wash items by hand, always wear protective gloves. When you’re handling food, use the right equipment and utensils rather than picking up with your fingers.
- Wear protective gloves whenever you come into contact with chemicals or substances which might irritate your skin. Keep your hands well moisturised too, to make up for the effects of frequent hand washing and sanitising.
- Keep an eye on your skin, especially on your hands, for any signs of a reaction. If you notice dry, red or itchy skin, you should report it to your doctor and a supervisor if you have one, and always try and treat the symptoms as soon as they appear.
6. Where to go for advice
You can find advice on everything from emptying fat fryers to the safe handling of knives on the Health and Safety Executive website. The comprehensive list of resources includes links and downloads to guides and occupation specific publications.
You can also find plenty of help with food safety issues – making sure you also keep your customers healthy and safe – from the Food Standards Agency. They have produced a really helpful leaflet that tells you everything you need to know about setting up a catering business, which is free to download.
You should also contact your local council Environmental Health Office, where you can be assessed and given a Food Hygiene Rating. Many local councils offer free food hygiene training which is essential if you want to make sure that staff are kept up to date on all the regulations and guidance.
Case Study – Vintage Feast
Of course, staying safe at work encompasses more than legal obligations and minimising injury. It’s an on-going task, making sure that you and your staff members stay healthy, happy and safe in their work. Christina set up two catering businesses, Vintage Feast (www.vintagefeast.com/index.php) and Feast Food, in London.
“We cater for events. Feast Food focusses mainly on corporate catering, supplying clients with anything from small sandwich lunches to doing full catering for conference of 1,000+ delegates.”
“Vintage Feast specialises in afternoon teas, and we have just launched a picnic menu too. I have been running my own catering company in one form or another (previously as part of a partnership) for just over a decade and as Feast for the last five years. At the moment I have three employees on PAYE, several freelance chefs and numerous casual staff who work the events.”
When I decided that I wanted to go into catering, the first place I went to for advice was my local environmental health officer. I asked her to come along to the unit we were intending to use as our kitchen and she was very helpful, giving me lots of good advice on ventilation and general hygiene requirements, what was absolutely necessary and what we could do to keep costs down.
“I had also researched how to do a food hygiene risk assessment online and I’d carried one out for the business. I went through this with the EHO which reassured her we knew what we were doing.”
I wasn’t really daunted by all the rules and regulations that applied to catering, it all seemed like common sense to me. I was very thorough in my research, and I found that my local EHO was more than happy to offer advice when I needed it.
“We have an environmental health folder to help us when we’re working from other people’s premises, which as you can imagine is something we do a lot of the time. We take the folder along to every event we cater for. All our food is transported in our chiller-van in thermal boxes with chiller blocks so we are quite self-sufficient! We make sure we have a probe with us and carry out random temperature checks on all foods. Of course everything is a bit more complicated when we’re out of our premises as often we just don’t have the space to do things the way we’d like, but generally speaking we manage just fine!”
No Power on a Sunny Day!
“We’ve only ever had one incident to deal with, and that was when we’d set up a stand at a food festival. When we arrived there wasn’t any power, it was a sunny day and we needed to get our fridge plugged in to keep everything chilled down. We didn’t panic – we simply bought bags of ice and packed the fridge out with them to keep everything cold until the power came on.”
As far as my own health and wellbeing go, stress is probably my main complaint as running my own business can be extremely stressful at times, especially when dealing with cash-flow and staffing issues. I have also had back problems from working long hours on my laptop.
I make sure that I work out at the gym at least four times a week and we have regular staff nights out to help with morale and relaxation. The last one was when we went bowling and to karaoke! My number one words of advice for anyone who wants to go into catering are: Do lots of research and do your costings before you do anything else!
Catering accidents can happen to anyone
No matter how many training courses you send people on, accidents do happen, and they happen to the best establishments, too. A waiter at the Savoy was given £9000 in compensation after he slipped on a greasy kitchen floor, while he was carrying a tray of drinks, and damaged his foot, leaving him only capable of working a few hours a day. If it can happen to the Savoy, it can happen to you, so be careful!