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How to conduct a risk assessment for your mobile catering van

Whether cooking up fantastic fried chicken for famished festival goers or delicious doughnuts for Devon day-trippers, you need to manage a lot of risks as a mobile caterer. But from slips and trips to electric and gas hazards, as a business owner it can sometimes feel overwhelming.

To get a handle on hazards you need to know how to conduct a risk assessment for your mobile catering van. Read our simple step-by-step guide to find out more.

When managing risks to your business, staff and customers, it’s important to choose a company that understands the unique challenges you face.

The helpful team at Mobilers has been arranging tailored catering cover for more than 20 years. That means we can quickly find catering van insurance to give you the protection you need.

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What is a risk assessment?

A risk assessment is a vitally important step in eliminating, reducing or minimizing the risks of loss, damage or injury at your business. By looking systematically at your mobile catering business, considering what could go wrong, and deciding on suitable measures to control risks, you can do a huge amount to reduce the potential for harm.

It’s also an important legal requirement for mobile caterers to carry out a risk assessment. And if you have a staff of five or more you must keep a record of it, too. It’s one of the many processes you need to go through if you want to run a successful mobile catering business.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has set out five straightforward steps for every business to follow when performing a risk assessment. If you follow their advice and wealth of guidance then you really can’t go wrong.

Step 1:  Identify the hazards

When carrying out any type of risk assessment the first thing you must do is identify potential hazards in your mobile catering van and surrounding area.

It may sound strange, but try to think of the very worst-case scenario. What could potentially go wrong and how could staff or customers get hurt or fall sick? To do this effectively:

  • Take a long, slow walk around your catering van and look at what could reasonably be expected to cause injury or harm. What’s the general state of repair of your van? Are there any maintenance issues?
  • Watch closely the tasks carried out by your staff. What equipment do they use to perform their duties? Could tasks be performed in a safer way?
  • Check your accident, near miss and ill-health records. Is there anything you should guard against that’s been missed before? Or any repeated incidents?
  • Are there any non-routine operations, such as maintenance or cleaning that need to be taken account of?
  • Think about other times when the risks might change. For example, during adverse weather conditions or late at night when customers may have been drinking alcohol and might be more violent or aggressive. Do members of staff ever work alone? This can be a particular hazard you might not consider during your normal day-to-day operations.
  • Speak to your staff and customers about what they think. You can’t have eyes everywhere, and they may have noticed things you’ve missed.
  • Read any practical guidance published by the HSE on where hazards occur and how to control them. For example, the health and safety toolbox is an invaluable resource on how to control risks in workplaces.
  • If you’re a member of the Nationwide Caterers Association, contact them. They have plenty of advice, support and guidance for all areas of your business.
  • Note down any chemicals or other potentially harmful substances used.
  • Check manufacturers’ instructions for chemicals and other equipment. These are a useful resource to help spell out any hazards. They also give valuable advice on how to manage the hazards. Or check out our recent blog on preventing common kitchen accident. 
  • Remember to think about long-term health hazards, too. Exposure to high levels of noise, harmful substances, or repetitive strain can also harm your staff and business further down the roadside.
  • Are there specific risk assessments that need to be performed because of the complexity of the risk or specific legal requirements? For example, if you identify vibration as a hazard during a risk assessment, then you should read the specific guidance about vibration and carry out a vibration risk assessment, too.


Step 2:  Highlight who could be harmed

Now you have your list of potential hazards you need to be clear about who might be harmed and how. We don’t mean that you need to list everyone by name. Instead, identify them as different groups such as:

  • Staff
  • Customers
  • Visitors
  • Contractors
  • Passers-by

You could divide these groups up further. For example, for staff there might be differences between full-time or part-time staff, kitchen or serving staff, day or night-shift staff and so on.

Also be aware that some groups could contain people with particular requirements that put them at increased risk. Such as new and young workers, agency and temporary workers, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers, lone workers, and people with disabilities and long-term health conditions.

Extra thought will also be needed on how you deal with some hazards. So, cleaners, visitors, contractors, maintenance workers, and passers-by may not be at your van all the time. They might also access different areas and in a different way than staff members.

In every case, identify how members of the group might be harmed. So, what type of injury or ill health might occur? For example, ‘Kitchen staff and food service staff may suffer injuries such as strains or bruising from handling heavy/bulky objects.’ Or ‘Staff and customers could suffer serious/fatal injuries as a result of explosion/release of gas.’

Step 3:  Evaluate the risks and put precautions in place

When you’ve got a list of hazards and who might be affected, you have to decide what to do about them! After all, it’s your legal duty to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from harm.

The easiest way to do this is to compare what you’re doing with other good, standard practice in the industry. Members of the mobile catering business community are always ready to help each other out over such issues, so just ask if you’re not sure.

When looking at each hazard, consider what you’re already doing and what controls you already have in place. How well organised are you? Are your current controls being implemented effectively?

It’s also important to consider how likely it is that the hazard you’ve identified will happen. And how severe its consequences might be. After all, you need to prioritise your resources where they’re most needed.

Then compare this with best practice and see if there’s more you could be doing to control the risks, who needs to carry out that action, and when it needs to be done by.

When thinking about further controls, consider the following:

  • Can I eliminate the hazard altogether? For example, redesign the job to eliminate the need for anyone to work alone.
  • If I can’t get rid of the risk, can I control it so that harm is unlikely? For example, changing a hazardous cleaning product for a less hazardous one.
  • Can I prevent access to the hazard? Perhaps by introducing a guard on kitchen equipment to separate staff from the hazard.
  • Can I reorganise the work process to reduce staff exposure to the hazard? Such as rotating staff around tasks to reduce time working in a potentially harmful environment.
  • Should I issue personal protective equipment such as a uniform, footwear, goggles or gloves? This is usually the last consideration for controlling hazards as they tend to only protect one staff member at a time.

Always speak with staff first to see if they have any ideas for control measures. It’s also worth checking with them that your suggestions won’t themselves introduce new hazards!

Measures to improve health and safety don’t need to cost a lot, they often just need a little thought. For instance, placing non-slip strips on stairs to help prevent falls is a low-cost precaution considering the risks.

Remember, failure to take just a simple precaution could end up costing you a lot more in the long run if an accident does happen.

Step 4:  Record and share your findings (and put them into action)

Recording the findings of your risk assessment, and sharing them with all staff, makes it far more likely that appropriate actions will be taken. And potential risks are avoided.

When recording and communicating the results of your risk assessment it’s important to keep it as simple as possible. For example, HSE’s example is:

‘Contact with bleach and other cleaning materials: Dishwasher used rather than washing up by hand; All containers clearly marked; Cleaning products marked ‘irritant’ not purchased and milder alternatives bought; Long-handled mops and brushes, and strong rubber gloves, provided and used; Staff wash rubber gloves after use.’

There are plenty of examples of risk assessments on the internet that you can refer to for help. Remember risk assessments will be among the first things that the authorities will want to look at if there’s an inspection of your premises or someone is injured while there.

In any event, you must always demonstrate that:

  • A proper risk assessment was made.
  • You asked who might be affected by the risks.
  • You dealt with all the obvious or biggest hazards.
  • You took all reasonable precautions.
  • You involved your staff in the process.

Making notes

Step 5:  Review and update your risk assessment regularly

Mobile catering businesses, just like any other, are changing and adapting all the time. So it makes sense to review your risk assessment on a regular basis to check it’s still useful. Review your risk assessment annually and think about whether there have been any changes. If there’s been an accident in the business, then it’s probably worth reviewing sooner.

Changes to consider include those to equipment used, foods or other materials, staff, and business location. On the back of this analysis, are there improvements you could make? Have you spotted another potential hazard? Have there been any accidents or near misses you could learn lessons from? Make sure your risk assessment is as up to date as possible.

Tips for managing safety in mobile catering vans

Here’s a quick list of some of the most common hazards associated with mobile catering vehicles and examples of the measures you could take to prevent such accidents. The list is certainly not exhaustive and there are many other measures to take depending on your own particular situation.

Having the right catering van insurance in place is a great way to deal with the fall-out from accidents. Call Mobilers today to discuss which policy is right for you and your business.

  • Slips and trips
    Keep work areas clean and tidy with equipment and goods stored suitably.
  • Manual handling
    Store often-used items and heavy stock on shelves at waist height.
  • Knives
    Train staff to handle and store knives suitably.
  • Food handling
    Encourage staff to use tools rather than hands to handle food.
  • Contact with cleaning chemicals
    Could you use a dishwasher instead of hand washing?
  • Gas appliances
    Conduct a daily check of gas appliances with annual inspection, service and test by Gas Safe registered engineer. Check out our blog on site, to learn more about gas safety for food trucks.
  • Electrics
    Train staff to check equipment before use and report any defective plugs, discoloured sockets or damaged cable and equipment immediately.
  • Fire
    Provide appropriate fire extinguishers and fire blankets.
  • Fumes
    Ensure the van is well ventilated and that exhaust fumes from portable generators are not drawn into the workspace.
  • Scalding/burning
    Ensure deep fat fryers and other equipment holding hot liquid are well secured.
  • Machinery
    Make sure all dangerous parts are suitably guarded and that machinery guards are checked daily before use.

Catering van insurance from Mobilers

No matter how exhaustive your risk assessment, you always need the right insurance cover in place to protect your business, too.

Mobilers are the specialists when it comes to protecting catering vans and equipment.

Get a quote for catering van and trailer insurance today.

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