The Dangers of School Sausage Sizzles: Peeling the Risk Onion

Sausage Sizzles

Bunnings recently introduced a new work health and safety recommendation that sausage sizzle stall holders place onions served to customers underneath the sausage on all fundraising sandwiches.

According to the hardware giant’s Chief Operating Officer – Debbie Poole – this serving amendment was made in order to improve the safety of customers and staff, “to help prevent the onion from falling out and creating a slipping hazard”. Thousands of community groups apply to run sausage sizzle stalls outside Bunnings stores every week, fundraising through their sale of sausage sandwiches. The recommendation is to be provided to community groups within their fundraising sausage sizzle welcome pack, and will be on display while events are underway.

The onion advice is merely a recommendation and is not being touted as a compliance requirement for community groups. However, the introduction of a guideline specifically targeting slippage risks strongly suggests that an errant slice of onion was the culprit in a slipping incident at a recent Bunnings community event. A Queensland man claimed to have suffered serious injuries in this very scenario, slipping on an onion on a Bunnings shop floor three years ago and receiving compensation for his fall.

Slip and Fall Cases: Do They Bear Fruit?

If onion slippage is to blame, it is little wonder that it caused a shift in sausage policy. After all, slipping on food is not only a common occurrence, it can, and has, resulted in civil proceedings in court.

Slip and fall accidents occur in all sorts of places, but most commonly in public spaces such as shopping centres, retail outlets and apartment buildings. The owners and managers of these spaces have a duty of care to the community to ensure that the area is safe, secure and cleaned and maintained on a regular basis. Most slip and fall claims are the result of sloppy cleaning regimes, manifesting in hazardous objects or substances being left in public thoroughfares.

The most obvious slipping culprit is a puddle of water on a rainy day or post-cleaning, helpfully identified by a ‘Caution Wet Floor’ sign. However, it is the fruit of the common grape vine that seems to be the most wrathful slip hazard, with various prominent retailers, and even a school, taken to court over injuries sustained by slipping and falling on a grape.

In the school incident, a teacher employed at a Queensland school slipped on a grape in 2015 as she walked through a foyer area between classrooms, falling and fracturing her knee. She recently brought proceedings in the Queensland District Court, alleging that the grape had been dropped by a student from their ‘fruit break snack’, and that the school ought to have had a system of inspection and cleaning in place following the fruit break due to the risks arising out of dropped fruit.

The Court found that the risk of slipping on a piece of fruit while walking through the school’s foyer area was not foreseeable, and that the school did not breach its duty of care. Key factors in the case included:

  • there was no evidence that children were inadequately supervised during the fruit break
  • the school’s system of instructing teachers to make sure the school was clean and tidy was reasonable
  • there was no requirement to provide specific warnings or instructions to the teacher
  • it would not have been reasonable to abolish the fruit break due to its benefits to students in providing a healthy snack.

While in circumstances such as these a school’s system of cleaning and inspection only needs to be reasonable, not perfect, publicised slip and fall incidents serve as a timely reminder to schools of their workplace safety duties and common law duty of care responsibilities. So even though a school need not safeguard against all danger posed by slip hazards, such as pieces of onion, they can clearly take steps to reduce associated risks.

School Sausage Sizzles: Onion Hazards are Just the Beginning

Sausage sizzles have become almost synonymous with school activities, and are staple parts of school carnivals, open days, fundraising events and community fetes. And with a state election looming large in Victoria and a national election on the horizon for mid-2019, many schools face the prospect of once again being polling places, and by extension, sausage sizzle venues.

Despite the increasing use of postal votes and pre-poll voting, the majority of Australians still cast their votes in person on the day of the election. Perhaps the most memorable part of voting in an election, rather than performing the final ‘tick’ of political approval, is having the opportunity to eat a well-deserved sausage sandwich prepared by volunteers at the polling place of choice, which is usually a school or a community centre. Schools are regarded as some of the most suitable places for election voting due to their community centrality, large open areas (such as gyms and cafeterias) which can hold polling stations, and sufficient parking for voters.

When organising barbequing events, there’s a lot more to think about than just how many sausages to order, what the sauce offerings will be, and where onion should be inserted. As highly common community events, it is critical for schools to ensure that they conduct proper risk management for sausage sizzles, to ensure the safety and welfare of all customers and attendees. Three core risk areas are food safety, the physical safety of sausage chefs, and child safety for attending children.

Food Safety

Generally, sausage sizzles pose lower risks because the meat is cooked and served immediately and comes with a limited selection of condiments. However, the risk posed by a school sausage sizzle is greater because of the large number of child patrons, who are considered a more vulnerable population group.

Foods Standards Australia and New Zealand has developed a set of useful procedures for preserving food safety and hygiene at sausage sizzles, which include:

  • prepare and cook sausages safely, such as by keeping raw foods cool and separating cooked and raw meats to prevent contamination
  • clean and sanitise barbeques and preparation spaces before cooking
  • use disposable utensils wherever possible
  • ensure food handlers regularly wash their hands or have an exemption to use other methods of sanitising if running water is not available.

As with any event involving catered food, a school should ensure that it is allergy-aware and controls the risks of anaphylaxis.

Staff Safety

Schools are duty-bound to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that risks to the health and safety of their staff are eliminated or reduced. Within the context of a school sausage sizzle, this means ensuring that staff and volunteers manning barbeques at school managed or sanctioned events are not exposed to risk of serious harm.

This is so even when school facilities are used for the purposes of external functions – workplace safety duties are not limited to the school’s employees, likely extending to any person who enters the school’s premises as part of the event. Schools are expected to consult with third parties – such as election officials – to ensure the health and safety of everyone affected by the activities.

The most obvious risk posed to sausage chefs are fire risks and the potential for burns to be sustained while working with a naked flame and hot grill. Fire and Rescue NSW provides a simple safety checklist to assist with mitigating fire-associated barbeque risks, including:

  • ensure compliance with local fire restrictions including any fire bans that are in place
  • confirm that barbeques used, including gas cylinders and connections, have been serviced and maintained correctly
  • site barbeques in areas that are level, away from flammable materials (such as vegetation), and sheltered from wind gusts while being well-ventilated
  • ensure a barbeque is under the care of a responsible adult at all times
  • ensure compliance with the barbeque manufacturer’s instructions for operation.

A school sausage sizzle should be attended by a person with first aid certification and a first aid kit must be available. A school must also ensure procedures are in place to manage other external factors to staff and attendees, such as enforcing sun safety rules and ensuring adequate shelter and access to water.

Child Safety

As community events that are often attended by a large number of members of the public, school sausage sizzles can present a risk to children. In its Final Report, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse stated that institutions seeking to be child safe can improve safety by analysing and addressing risks in physical environments, reducing opportunities for harm and increasing the likelihood that perpetrators will be caught.

All schools should be implementing a child safety framework, and child safety procedures should cover all school environments and activities, including sausage sizzles and equivalent community events. For example, schools must ensure that their risk assessment for the sausage sizzle covers child safety risks (such as risks posed by students accessing public toilets). They should also implement procedures for child safety incidents or disclosures of abuse which occur during these school functions, taking into account the public nature of the event, the conditions at the venue and the need for continuous supervision of attending students.


About the Author

Kieran Seed is a Legal Research Consultant and School Governance reporter. He can be contacted here.

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