By Jeff Salton
A 16-year-old casual employee of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) suffered serious burns when he stepped backwards, tripped and fell into a container of hot oil, placed on the floor behind him without warning.
Following an investigation by SafeWork SA, KFC was charged with failing to have a safe work environment free of tripping hazards, failing to have a system for changing and filtering tanks of hot oil, and with failing to provide adequate training and supervision for that task, where it was reasonably practicable to guard against the resulting risk of injury.
On 15 May 2015, the young male was one of five cooks working in KFC’s Eastwood, South Australia, kitchen. This was only his fifth three-hour shift as a cook.
While the young cook was performing his duties at a busy production time for the store, a 17-year-old worker was showing a trainee how to clean an oil filter in one of the cookers. The process involved draining the oil into the purpose-built tank, then removing it from under the cooker and placing it on the floor of the kitchen behind where the young cook was working.
The tank had to be removed to avoid contact between cleaning water and hot oil, although it was later determined that it could have been put under an adjacent cooker. After the cleaning process, the oil tank was to be replaced, so the oil could be pumped back up into the vat of the cooker.
The young cook was not warned the tank had been placed behind him when the trainer left the area with the trainee to turn off the power supply to the cooker to enable it to be cleaned.
It was then that the cook stepped backwards, tripped on the tank and fell backwards onto its cover, which dislodged and allowed him to fall into the half-full container of hot oil.
A SafeWork SA inspector measured the temperature of the oil at 108°C approximately two hours after the incident so it was obviously hotter two hours earlier.
An assistant manager quickly pulled the cook out of the oil and placed him in a large industrial sink where cold water was run over the burns until an ambulance arrived.
He was admitted to hospital and treated for second and third degree burns to 9 percent of his body, including his lower back, buttocks, right elbow and left shoulder. Even though he did not require skin grafts, he still remained an inpatient for two weeks.
The young man has been left with permanent scarring, extreme sensitivity to UV light and lower back pain due to damaged nerve endings. The injury also had a major adverse impact on a crucial year of secondary school.
In the Magistrates Court of South Australia, Magistrate Lieschke criticised KFC’s pre-existing flawed system of working with the tanks of hot oil.
“The system of work failed to prohibit a tank’s removal until the oil had cooled to a safe temperature,” he said.
He said that while KFC had a well-intentioned comprehensive risk management and assessment system with an annual audit program, it had failed to conduct any hazard identification and risk assessment with respect to removing tanks of hot oil from under cookers, and handling them during the filter cleaning process.
“As a result, the 17-year-old trainer, a necessarily inexperienced youth, was left to work out a system for performing the task and instructing new employees, (in this instance as to an unsafe procedure).”
Online training unseen
KFC used an internal website to provide certain information, instruction and training for employees. The website information did not address the obvious issues of where to safely place the large tanks, or the hazard of the heat of the oil.
Magistrate Lieschke said the 17-year-old trainer had not seen this website information, had never been required to demonstrate the process of filtering the oil to any of his supervisors, had not been tested for competence in carrying out that task, and had not been given any specific safety instructions about how he was to train the new employee in this task.
KFC has now changed its procedure company-wide, not just for its Eastwood store, eliminating the need to remove oil tanks containing any hot oil, and has implemented other safety measures, including additional training for staff.
KFC made a $15,000 payment to the young worker, who six weeks later returned to the store on light duties, as well as inviting the young worker and his family to discuss further professional assistance.
Magistrate Lieschke convicted the company and fined it $105,000 (after a 40% reduction for contrition, cooperation and an early guilty plea and no prior safety convictions), plus costs.