INJURIES AT WORK
Your rights and responsibilities
Working in hospitality is like being an action hero. The dangers that you’re facing on a daily basis are insane – there are knives everywhere, the floors are slippery, open flames roar, oil sizzles and spits, water seethes, glasses and bottles shatter, blades whizz. Okay sure, you’re not quite Indiana Jones – because there should be a whole host of measures put in place to ensure that you’re not ducking and diving, constantly in fear of imminent injury. But what are those measures? And what should we do when, in spite of those measures, accidents do happen?
This is a guide for both employees and employers, detailing what to do in terms of prevention and action, and what to do and expect in the aftermath.
- Ensure your workplace is legally compliant with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- Follow regulations in terms of training, safety, inspections and record-keeping
- Communication is key – make sure channels are open and valued
- Give all injuries appropriate medical attention and do not seek to minimise their severity
- All employers are legally required to pay Statutory Sick Pay
- Employees should familiarise themselves with the sickness policies and entitlement specified within their contract
- Employers can go beyond SSP, either as a blanket policy or choosing to treat each incident on a case-by-case basis, being conscious of the need for fair treatment.
- A return to work should be sensitively managed through proper risk assessment and great communication between employer and employee.
Yes it’s boring, but when you’re asked to fill out all those forms, or take that training, there’s a tangible human reason on the other end of that. What you’re doing is implementing and then proving that you’ve done everything you can to make sure that every single person in your workplace is as safe as possible. Accidents will always happen – that’s just life – but you need to make sure that every step has been taken to ensure that avoidable risk has been removed. Employers in the UK have legal obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees, and that includes:
- Follow regulations
Stay up to date with all the regulations specific to your workplace, and make sure you’re legally compliant! It seems basic, but this is something that can slip – not necessarily through sloppiness or intentional corner-cutting, but sometimes even well-intentioned people can just feel that they’re too busy and things get overlooked. If your workplace is compliant, you can be comfortable that your staff are as safe as they can be.
- Employee training
All staff members should receive health and safety training relevant to their role. That might be formal or informal, as appropriate – food hygiene certificates for all food handlers, making sure that anyone using any equipment – machinery, hazardous materials etc. – has been properly instructed, and ensuring that everyone has full visibility and access to protocols.
- Safety equipment
Make sure that everyone has the right gear for the job. That could mean non-slip chef shoes, gloves where necessary, or other protective and/or appropriate clothing.
- Regular inspections
This is the stuff that the EHO will be checking anyway, so you should have it in order. It includes routine inspections of the workplace to identify and address potential hazards, checking equipment, maintaining cleanliness, ensuring proper lighting etc.
- Good communication
This is something that your EHO docs won’t address! But it’s one of the most vital points of all. Every single one of your staff need to feel that they can raise any safety concerns or incidents promptly, and that channels of communication going both ways are open and valued. This is such an important way to prevent accidents, or to make sure they’re dealt with as effectively and promptly as possible.
So an accident has happened, in spite of all the prevention protocols you have in place. Here’s how to make sure everyone is looked after, and to minimise the impact:
- First aid
Make sure that there are trained first-aiders on site to help out. The Red Cross provides courses, and many others can be found online. It is also a legal obligation to have a well-stocked first aid kit onsite – every single person in the building should be aware of where it is.
- Seek medical attention
We’ve all seen it: the quick wrap-around with the blue roll and carry on with the shift. Sure, it’s not worth getting over-zealous about minor injuries which many chefs feel are par for the course – a nicked finger, a stripe of burn on the forearm. These should be dressed appropriately from the first aid kit. But it’s also true that stoicism, busy shifts or machismo can mean that much more serious injuries go untreated, and that can lead to complications. It’s easier to say than to do – but it’s important that each of us is cautious and realistic about the care needed for injuries, putting the person first, not the service.
- Proper reporting
All companies with 10 or more employees are legally required to keep an accident log, where they must record any work-related accidents, illnesses or near-miss incidents. That should include:
- Employee information
- Details of the accident (what happened and when)
- Accident impact (description of injuries and how it’s affected the employee)
- Action taken
- Medical treatment summary
Some injuries just require a blue plaster, a note in the log book and a quick break for a soothing cuppa (if possible!). But if it’s something a lot more serious it could have a drastic impact on your life – whether that’s for a day, a week, or much longer. So how can we proceed if the worst happens?
- Who is at fault?
There’s a misconception that any accidents that happen in the workplace are the employer’s responsibility. But in fact, if the workplace is totally compliant with the Health and Safety and Work Act, has done regular risk assessments, maintained equipment, given proper training or supervision and has all records up to date, injuries sustained at work such as knife cuts or burns are not treated as the employer’s fault. It could be a really unfortunate accident – like a slip of the knife – or it could be that the employee isn’t behaving in a safe way, despite being properly trained.If someone believes that their employer is at fault through creating an unsafe workplace, they can take legal action (if the human factor isn’t enough of an incentive for compliance, then this should be!)
- Employer responsibility
Employers have a legal duty to provide appropriate care and support for injured employees, including facilitating their return to work. By law they must have Employers’ Liability Insurance, which can help to cover medical and rehabilitation costs, and potential compensation.Employers do not however have any legal obligation to pay more than statutory sick pay for absences due to injury or illness that is not the employers’ fault (see above), so employees are not entitled more than whatever is specified in their contract (see below). Some employers will take each incident on a case-by-case basis and may go above and beyond their legal/contractual requirements, particularly if they want to ensure that a member of staff returns to work after the absence. That could mean full or a proportion of their pay for an agreed amount of time, often dictated by the recovery timeline advised by the medical practitioner. ‘Discretionary’ sick pay could be specified in the contract, or it could be agreed outside of the contract, but it is important that employers are conscious of discontent that can arise from being seen to treat employees differently.
- Employee rights
All employees are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay, which is £109.40 per week (we know, it’s not much). This is paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks. ACAS has a useful guide to SSP here. It kicks in after 4 consecutive days of absence – the first three days are unpaid (unless it specifies otherwise in the contract). SSP is the minimum an employer is legally required to pay, but the contract might go above and beyond that – many contracts will specify an agreed number of sick days that will be paid in full, and specify the terms.Employees should always check their contracts, and employers should always consider what is both meaningful and workable to implement in terms of going above and beyond – a fully paid week over the course of a year is quite a common benefit.
Whether someone has been signed off because of an accident, an illness, or other circumstances coming back to work needs to be treated with care. Creating an environment which is appropriate to their needs and current capabilities is crucial – ignoring this can jeopardise someone’s ability to do their job properly, and potentially create resentment and/or unhappiness on both sides. On the other hand, a well-managed return to work can create a strengthened and long-lasting work relationship.
- Risk assessments
Employers should be measuring how the specific nature of the workplace might affect the employee’s ability to work without causing harm to themselves or others, they should assess the task list of the individual, and concluding whether existing measures are sufficient or whether additional steps or adjustments will need to be taken in light of their potentially altered circumstances. You can either do this yourself, or employ an occupational therapist. All this should be recorded in full – this not only covers any liability, but also provides really useful information/instruction to the employee to show expectations and concessions.
- Change of hours or roles
Great communication is vital. It’s all very well employing a third party to perform a risk assessment and then issuing the employee with a series of tick boxes, but it is more effective to have an open line of communication whereby an employer and employee can together work out what is manageable, realistic and feasible for both parties, based on good knowledge of circumstance, skill and ability, then make adjustments to hours or roles where necessary – perhaps reducing shifts, or focusing more on administrative duties. Crucially, there should then be a timeline set at which point these adjustments are reviewed.
During any long absence from work – and this is a conversation we most commonly have around parental leave – it is crucial for employers to keep in regular contact with an employee. It can be a hard balance to strike – too frequent or in-depth updates can be seen as stressful and burdensome, too infrequent can leave someone feel isolated and shut out. But done correctly and sensitively, it means that the return to work can be less of a shock to both the employee and their colleagues, and the feeling of care and team cohesion is maintained.What that sensitively managed contact looks like will differ from person to person and business to business, but broadly speaking the absent employee should be looped in with any larger changes, and the rest can be managed through that great communication… the thread that runs through all of this!
Ensuring a workplace is compliant with the Health and Safety and Work Act, along with regular risk assessments, inspections, and maintenance of equipment, proper training for employees, and clear communication lines, will help mitigate the risk of injuries at work. Employees in turn should make sure they’ve fully understood the training provided.
Despite all these efforts, accidents still do happen! In more serious cases, stoicism needs to be set aside and the injury must be properly addressed and reported if required by regulation. Employers may not be at fault if they’re totally compliant, but they do have a legal obligation to provide necessary care and facilitate a return to work. All employees are entitled to SSP – some employers may choose to go above and beyond this, and employees should always be clear on what’s been specified in their contracts.