Interview of the month - Health & Safety first
MANAGING DIRECTOR AT SAFER FOOD SCORES
Melissa has degrees in both Hospitality and in Environmental Health. She worked in hotel, pub and restaurant management before qualifying as an EHO. Later she managed a team responsible for enforcing food hygiene and health and safety in the Borough’s 1000+ food businesses.
Melissa is a Chartered EHP (Environmental Health Practitioner) and is on the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register. This means that her competence has been assessed by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the Health and Safety Executive and that her knowledge is up-to-date.
The Initiative: We are now approaching time when the lock-down restrictions will slowly start loosening for hospitality sector - what steps would you recommend for us in the industry to take up on now?
Melissa Thompson: As the industry moves towards re-opening their spaces, the first stage should be to carry out and document a site specific risk assessment to determine the control measures you need to have in place for the COVID-19 hazards identified. The UK’s Working Safely Guidance for ‘restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services’ is currently being developed but it is not likely to depart far from the Government guidance for other sectors so they are well worth a read now: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19 You might want to consider Safer Assured’s customisable Management Pack which includes risk assessments, safe methods, screening, monitoring forms and signage: https://www.saferassured.uk/
TI: PPE in hospitality - what PPE is now law required and what measures are recommended?
MT: The UK Government is clear that PPE should only be used as the last resort to control COVID-19 spread and supplies reserved for clinical and care settings. If safe distancing of 2 metres cannot be achieved the activity should be eliminated or face to face working avoided and cohort shifts introduced. Where face to face working cannot be avoided, screens or barriers need to be introduced. After introducing these precautions, however, you may decide that PPE is required in which case FFP3 masks that have been professionally fit tested and face shields would be considered most effective to prevent infection via airborne contamination. Face coverings are less effective but may help reassure team members and customers and should always be worn on public transport. In which case hands must be washed before putting on and taking them off and they must be changed when damp and after each use. Disposable gloves should be used with caution as they can be contaminated by hands when putting them on and hands can be contaminated by the gloves when taking them off which means hand washing before and after use.
TI: Apart from the legally required safety measures, what do you think we should consider when going back into operation?
MT: Businesses should consider practical solutions that can be implemented easily especially if you have more than one site. Checklists are a useful way of making sure that you have considered everything and also provide a useful record of the measures you have taken. Investigate whether your normal suppliers of goods and services are ready to support you when you open up e.g. chemical suppliers, do they have the products you need in stock? Is your laundry company operating? Is your pest control contractor booked in to carry out a site visit before you open? Have your suppliers had to substitute products that you normally buy from them? This could mean that your allergen declarations may change and will need reviewing. You may need to consider changing your menu to ensure that you can ensure safe distancing in your kitchen spaces. You may decide to split tasks by time with a thorough sanitising clean down in between or you may decide that it is best to designate staff and areas to menu items. Don’t forget that if you have told your local authority that you had closed, you will need to let them know that you are re-opening and whether you are operating in a significantly different way e.g. now serving takeaway food where you previously had not done this.
TI: We have heard the terminology of life pre- and post-vaccine. What does this division mean for hospitality?
MT: The biggest difference between pre-vaccine and post-vaccine will be with the safe distancing requirements that are currently in place. If enough people are vaccinated, the population will have ‘herd immunity’ which therefore means that social distancing can be reduced or removed altogether. This will mean that a number of businesses where opening was not a viable financial proposition will potentially be able to re-open. Finding a vaccine, however, is not inevitable given that there is still no vaccine for SARS-1 or HIV, infections that have killed millions of people.
TI: What do you think will be the biggest challenge in daily operations for restaurateurs?
MT: Ensuring that customers and team members know your rules and more importantly remember to follow them. Training will be critical to ensure that your team has a consistent approach.
TI: Knowing that hospitality is about bringing people together, is it possible to provide great service and keep the safety measures in place at the same time?
MT: Hospitality businesses are excellent at finding ways of maintaining great service even in the most challenging of times and this is certainly one of them. There are some excellent apps available to assist with bookings, queuing systems, ordering and payments so that your team can concentrate on delivering great service. Ensuring that your guests know that you take their safety seriously will put their minds at rest and publicising how you do this on your website would be a good start.
TI: How can we/should we approach our guests who are not following the rules?
MT: Calmly and politely but if the guest continues not following your rules you will need to ask them to leave explaining that you cannot ensure their safety, the safety of the other guests and your staff.
TI: Do you know if government is planning any inspections of sites to check if they are covid safe? Who would conduct such inspections and what could be potential sanctions?
MT: There are already inspections being carried out by local authority environmental health officers (EHO). These can either be inspections in person or by telephone. They could be routine or generated by a complaint from a guest or an employee. More than 7000 complaints have been made to the Health and Safety Executive to date so people are clearly anxious about visiting places. If the officer considers that health and safety legislation has been breached they can issue notices stipulating what you need to do and by when. Or if they feel there are serious safety risks they could require you to close part or all of your operation. This will most likely lead to prosecution at a later date and unlimited fines. Obtaining independent verification such as the COVID-SAFE UK quality mark will give enforcement officers and others confidence that you have everything necessary in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.