How to manage employee Fitness for Work and keep your business operating

Table of Contents

Today, I’m going to show you how to manage employee Fitness for Work and keep your business operating.

Staff should be ‘fit for work’ at all times. This means they must not be suffering from or carrying an illness or disease that could cause a problem with food safety.

If you run a food business, you need to know when to exclude your staff from food handling duties. This will ensure that your business can continue to operate safely and benefit from satisfied, repeat customers and in turn increased profits.

Unfortunately, many businesses get it wrong. This can mean that the whole team gets wiped out ill or it could lead to a food poisoning outbreak.

A failure to manage staff illness could result in a food poisoning outbreak

Why do some food businesses fail to manage employee fitness for work?

The reasons are wide ranging and include:

  1. There is no system in place for staff to report illness
  2. Staff have not been trained to report illness
  3. Staff have not been trained as to why some illnesses could compromise food safety
  4. Staff choose not to report illness because they will not get paid or through fear of repercussions.

I’ll now explain how you can manage employee fitness to work and when you should exclude staff from working with food.

1. What should type of illnesses should your staff report?

It is essential that staff do not work with food if they are suffering from, or carrying, an illness or disease that could cause a problem with food safety.

This means illnesses or conditions that could be passed on through food. For example; food poisoning, sickness, diarrhoea, infected wounds, skin, nose or throat infections. Staff should also report any other medical illness that could be passed on through food.

Staff should also not work with food if someone they live with is suffering from diarrhoea and/or vomiting, or if they have returned from a trip abroad in which they/a member of their party suffered from vomiting and/or diarrhoea. (If symptoms do not develop, then, return to work is possible 24 hours after contact with the infected person).

2. Make sure staff who are ill do not put your food and customers at risk

Many food businesses go wrong at this stage as often staff are not aware of what illnesses they need to report. Or management doesn’t always know what action to take.

The norovirus outbreak at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant is a prime example of how although the source of the norovirus was raw oysters, it is likely that more customers were infected due to infected staff members being at work.

To avoid putting your customers at risk, make sure you train your staff and managers in the type of illnesses that must be reported and what steps to take to protect your food.

3. What should you do when a staff member reports illness?

The good news is there are clear guidelines on what action to take.

Food handling staff must not work with food if they are suffering from diarrhoea and/or vomiting. They should stay at home or go home immediately. They must not return to work with food until they are clear of symptoms for at least 48 hours.

If staff are showing symptoms of coughs and colds and are unable to work without coughing or sneezing on open food, they should be assigned to other tasks away from open food. The manager/ supervisor should make this determination.

If a food handler has infected skin (i.e. a septic cut or boil), these may be infected with a bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus. If the infected area of skin can be completely covered with a brightly coloured, waterproof dressing, it will usually be ok for the person to carry on working. Again, the manager/ supervisor will need to make this determination.

Action plan:

  • Train your staff on reporting illness and what symptoms to report
  • Train your managers on what action to take when a staff member reports illness
  • Implement a record keeping system for managing food handler sickness including when a food handler can return to work with food.
  • If food safety gets compromised as a result of an infected food handler, take action to remove the unsafe food from sale/use.

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