Coffee trade must do more to avoid scalding customers

28/10/2010 - 00:00
The coffee trade has been told that it must do more to avoid scalding customers with hot drinks.

A new discussion document by the Coffee Council, a think-tank of senior managers in the coffee trade, has told the beverage world that 'one more scalded customer is one too many', and has suggested that every business which sells hot drinks must now review its safety procedures. The Child Accident Prevention Trust has invited members of the public to report their experiences of good and bad practice where hot drinks are served. The actual number of customers injured by hot drinks seems quite small - from the millions of hot drinks served every day, reported scalding cases are probably in single figures each year. Nor does the catering trade appear to be particularly at fault, as the vast majority of scalding incidents appear to have been caused by customers. The problem is that any single case can involve injuries severe enough to be life-changing, and that every such case is seized on by the general news media and damages the catering trade's reputation. The Coffee Council's document reports a typical case, supplied by the Child Accident Prevention Trust. In this case, a four-year-old boy suffered scalding injuries in a café - three years later, the boy still wears dressings on his neck and chest all the time, and requires a half-hour massage every night to retain the mobility of his neck. Skin grafts will be attempted when he is older. His mother says that she now recognises adults being 'too casual' with hot drink, and calls for a greater awareness of the danger of scalds, and for catering staff to be trained to deal with such accidents. Apart from the 'duty of care' aspect, the Coffee Council reminds caterers to protect their reputation and their liability. This is getting more serious – one of the very biggest fast-food names was recently accused in the press of an 'amateurish' response to a scalding incident on its premises, and the Council has noted several similar critical comments from the general news media. There is also a risk of severe damages being awarded in court. Fortunately, even in the new British compensation culture, beverage-related injury awards are still rare; there was a big award of £25,000 against a budget airline four years ago, and a more recent award of £1,400 against a holiday park. However, it is a worry that no insurance companies or legal advisors contacted on the matter would speak to the Coffee Council at all, which now suggests that caterers will be well advised to specifically check their business insurance cover. Several recent cases have centred on whether a hot drink was served in a safe manner - typically, a teenager complained to the daily press that he may be scarred for life after a lid came off a takeaway beverage cup as the car he was in passed over a speed-bump. In response, the major disposable-cup manufacturers have stressed through the Council that it is unsafe for caterers to spot-buy generic takeaway lids. The Coffee Council has told the beverage trade that proving to a court that 'it wasn't my fault' isn't going to restore a caterer's reputation. Equally, to say 'the cup had a warning on it' is no way to answer the issue of a customer scarred for life. And so, although scalding injuries represent an immeasurably-small proportion of the millions of hot drinks served every day, the Coffee Council has called upon the catering industry to review its precautions against accidents, against compensation claims, and to avoid distress to frontline staff. The Council sympathises with the hundreds of thousands of front-line catering staff who bear the responsibility of serving hot drinks every day, and so does the Child Accident Prevention Trust, which said: "The important thing is for there to be a procedure in place, and for staff to know what to do. It's not fair on staff if they're not prepared for this kind of thing." The Coffee Council also calls upon those who provide furnishing and design services to the café and catering trades to consider the safe passage of hot dri

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