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Risk assessment

Lack of risk assessment led to horrendous burns accident

An employee at a takeaway in Leeds suffered horrific burns when he spilt scalding oil over himself. What responsibility did his employer bear for the accident?

The employee had drained the hot oil from the fryer and was carrying it in a plastic container to the takeaway's cellar. The cellar was unlit at the time and the employee had to hold the container with one hand so he could use the torch on his mobile phone to find his way. As he tried to pour the contents into a storage drum, he slipped and spilt the oil over himself. He then collapsed onto the floor, where he suffered further burns from the oil that had been spilt. The left side of his body was severely burned. He had to spend four weeks in a specialist burns unit, where he underwent skin graft surgery and will require further treatment.

The incident was investigated by the Leeds City Council’s environmental health team. It discovered a number of health and safety failings at the premises, including slippery floors in the cellar itself and on the stairs, as well as a lack of adequate lighting. It also found that there was no risk assessment or safe system of work for emptying the fat fryers.

The court was told that when the takeaway’s owner was informed of the accident by a member of staff, he told them not to call an ambulance. Instead, he took the employee to hospital in a taxi and asked him to say he had sustained his injuries at home.

B, the takeaway’s owner, pleaded guilty to failing to safeguard his employee under s.2(1) Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. He was sentenced to 26 weeks in prison, suspended for twelve months. His company was fined £10,000, plus £5,000 in costs, and was ordered to pay a £150 victim surcharge.

The employer had not assessed the risks of the dangerous task of emptying the deep-fat fryers and there was no safe system of work in place at the takeaway for carrying out this activity. This failure was compounded by poor workplace conditions and the owner’s wholly inappropriate response to the accident itself.

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