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Burning question for food venues

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Restaurants, hotels or clubs that still use methylated spirits burners under their bain marie food warmers do so at the risk of heavy fines should an accident occur.

The veiled warning comes via a decision in the Industrial Courts where Clare Country Club was fined more than $13,000 after a mishap at one of its breakfast functions.

The venue’s head chef Leo Hollingshead was injured while attempting to refill methylated spirits burners.

“The methylated spirits ignited, splashing onto Hollingshead’s face and neck, causing superficial burns,” the court heard.

The burners had been in use for some years and staff were taught how to light and extinguish them by another staff member.

The court heard there was no written procedure for lighting burners.

Concerns about using the burners, however, had already been raised by other venue operators.

“Following a January 2010 incident involving methylated spirits and an employee at the Adelaide Royal Coach Resorts Inn, Andrew Bullock communicated with all members of the Country Clubs and Resorts network including the defendant, warning that an alternative heating solution was required, and that methylated spirits was not to be used to heat food,” the court heard.

It was a recommendation that had been ignored by Clare Country Club.

“By the time of the incident in January 2012, (the venue manager) still had not performed a formal risk assessment of, or formally identified the hazards attaching to, the methylated spirits burners.

“He had not replaced them as instructed by the defendant’s director, nor had he developed or trained anyone in a formal safe work method for using them.

“The defendant’s director Andrew Bullock was surprised by the incident because he had thought the burners had already been replaced by disposable burners that eliminated the use of liquid methylated spirits.

“After the incident the company immediately removed the refillable methylated spirits burners and replaced them with disposable burners. A safe work method was developed for the disposable burners.”

In his decision the magistrate said the industry had yet to rid itself of the dangerous burners.

“I accept that methylated spirits burners were once very common in the restaurant industry as a food warming device and that some still exist in various establishments,” industrial court magistrate Steven Lieschke said.

“The gravamen of the charge is that despite knowing of general risks of handling methylated spirits burners, and despite the defendant directing its general manager to replace them, the defendant through its director had not followed up to ensure the hazard had been adequately controlled by replacing the liquid burners with either gel fuelled burners or electric heating.”

In his assessment of the amount of fine to be imposed, the magistrate said “the penalty must still serve as a general deterrent to employers”.

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