How to cope with a visit from the Environmental Health Officer

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Related tags: Safety, Occupational safety and health

Licensees these days have to be experts in many areas, and food safety is certainly one of them. Staying within the law - and keeping your customers...

Licensees these days have to be experts in many areas, and food safety is certainly one of them. Staying within the law - and keeping your customers free from harm - means putting management systems in place that can reduce hazards.

Your local environmental health department will always be happy to help you with this, or you can contact one of the new companies that have sprung up to help small catering businesses tackle just this issue.

RisCo is a joint venture between cleaning specialist Johnson Wax Professional and the National Britannia Group. It provides risk management in the retail, hospitality and leisure industries through a variety of services that include bespoke training solutions and recognised certificated courses which can be delivered through either traditional methods or computer-based learning.

It also offers technical and legal support through a 24-hour advice line which handles all health, safety and environmental queries.

Trained staff are able to offer up-to-date information on all aspects of food safety and wider health and safety matters. Qualified auditors use customised auditing systems to provide an external verification of a pub's procedures and legal compliance.

For larger operations, RisCo offers an internet-enabled safety management system tailored to the needs of a company.

Here, Stuart Kelly, operations manager for RisCo and himself a former EHO, explains how licensees can prepare for that dreaded visit from the EHO:

Visits by an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) are generally regarded with apprehension among publicans, particularly as EHOs often arrive unannounced and businesses can feel ill-prepared.

A bad inspection report can be costly, both in monetary terms and for the reputation and the future success of a business. Careful management can, however, eliminate the risk of a poor assessment and there is plenty of help available if you're unsure of your responsibilities.

We often find that people are baffled by regulations and are not sure how much they need to do to comply. For pubs offering a limited food menu there is probably no need for a huge and complex system, so don't go over the top. It's all about knowing your needs and interpreting the regulations appropriately.

For example, it is better to have a simple hazard analysis system that works and is being followed in your kitchen than a complex HACCP programme that no-one understands or uses.

There are a number of key areas, however, that should be tackled in order to ensure the smooth running of an inspection. The first thing to remember is not to panic - businesses have no need to fear an inspection as long as they have addressed the health and safety and food safety issues within their operation and complied with regulations.

Due diligence, which involves the checking and recording of conditions in a catering operation, is essential and all EHOs will want to see evidence that thorough checks have been conducted. Deliveries, cleaning schedules, and storage and cooking temperatures are among the factors that should be recorded.

Regular staff training is really important so that staff understand what checks need to be made and how they need to be recorded. At the very least, employees should receive health and safety training at induction, whenever they are given new responsibilities and whenever new technology or equipment is introduced.

Slips, trips and falls are the cause of a large number of accidents in the catering industry. The risk of these kinds of injuries could be reduced by staff knowing how to spot potential hazards such as wet or greasy floors or spilt drinks and knowing how to deal with them competently.

All catering operations must carry out health and safety risk assessments on a regular basis to identify potential hazards, evaluate the extent of the risk and decide on and implement suitable control measures. These risk assessments will complement your health and safety policy and EHOs will need to see evidence of them during a routine inspection.

Catering operations must adhere to COSHH - Control of Substances Hazardous to Health - requirements wherever substances deemed hazardous to health are used. Employers are obliged to determine whether any hazardous substances are present in the workplace and if they are, assess any risk to the health of employees. If necessary they must implement preventive measures.

Health and safety arrangements need to be monitored and reviewed on a regular basis. There are many potential hazards in every catering operation but a good management system combined with a positive health and safety culture will reduce the risks of these hazards. One important thing to remember is that help is at hand, either through a company such as RisCo or your local EHO.

RisCo - 029 2085 9292

10 steps to get ready for the EHO

  • Take control​ - appoint a member of staff who understands and is prepared to oversee health and safety and food hygiene issues.
  • Training​ - establish regular training to ensure staff understand what they need to do and how, where and when.
  • Due diligence​ - time of food storage and cooking temperatures should be checked and recorded at regular intervals.
  • Risk assessment​ - health and safety hazards should be identified and recorded, the risks evaluated and control measures implemented.
  • Manual handling​ - hazardous manual handling operations should be identified and safe procedures introduced. Staff should be trained in the correct techniques.
  • Hazardous substances​ - COSHH assessments should be carried out on all potentially hazardous substances. Where it is not possible to prevent exposure, steps should be taken to control exposure to them.
  • Slips, trips and falls​ - staff should understand the common causes of these kinds of accidents and know what to do if they occur.
  • Accident book​ - all premises must have an accident book to record staff accidents. Serious accidents should be reported to an EHO immediately.
  • Records​ - keep records of all checks, training and routine reviews that are carried out, including details of corrective actions.
  • Ask​ - if you are unsure about any of your obligations ask your local Environmental Health Department or contact a specialist company like RisCo.

This information is intended as a guide only and specific issues should be discussed directly with RisCo or the local Environmental Health Dept.

Related topics: Training

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