A week ago, I had my first ever major workplace injury, burning my hand with boiling hot milk. I’ll explain the story as briefly as I can…
Semolina is a dessert similar to porridge but sweeter, more grainy and traditionally eaten with a dollop of jam (jelly). You make it by mixing the grain and milk together cold, then slowly heat it up whilst stirring. The employee we had as chef that dat wasn’t a professionally trained chef, so he thought you had to heat the milk up first then add the grain after (that’s how we do the custard).
When he asked me to then do the semolina, I had to improvise my way around it by mixing semolina grain with cold milk in a jug then pouring that into the already-hot milk, sticking that back into the steamer and taking it back out again to mix. This lead to the tin becoming over-filled.
For some reason, we don’t have any oven-gloves in the kitchen. Instead, we use thick tea-towels to handle hot things. It’s hard to explain but this meant whilst holding the tin with a tea-towel, the middle of it hung under the tray in a ‘U’ shape. So when I was taking the hot, over-filled tin out of the steamer, the ‘U’ of the towel caught the corner of one of the work surfaces, knocking the tin to the side and causing boiling hot milk to spill over my left hand.
I immediately put the tin to one side and stuck my hand under a cold tap. Nobody saw the accident as it happened and I withheld from screaming, but the chef noticed when he saw my under the tap and the milk all over the floor and worktop. I tried to continue working, but I couldn’t take my hand away from the cold water.
Surprisingly, chef was a trained first-aider, so he got the first-aid kit out and applied a cooling gel pad to my hand and wrapped it up in bandages. We called for an ambulance, but they later called back asking for more details and, upon realising it wasn’t a life-threatening injury, sent a taxi instead. This was paid for by the hospital.
After 3h of waiting, they took off the bandages and pad. There was some very small blistering around my thumb and finger but no massive bubbly ones, so they applied more pads to it and re-bandaged it. After a few days, I took the bandages off again. The doctors advised me to see my local GP once I took my bandages off, but I didn’t fancy being in a waiting room again so I skipped.
As of this moment, the blistering has mostly come back down, but the skin has discoloured, feels hardened and looks like it’s lost texture, too. I could be wrong, but this to me looks like it’s scarring and it’s now for life.
I’ve been debating whether or not I should claim compensation from my workplace for this injury. On one paw, this injury likely would have never happened if a) we had oven-gloves in the kitchen and b) a professionally trained chef was left in charge. On the other, I’ve developed a good relationship with this care-home in the four years I’ve been there. I don’t play golf with the manager or anything like that, but they know me as the one who does the job, never complains, never goes off sick each weekend and does as he’s told. I don’t know if claiming for compensation would damage my relationship with them, or worse, prompt them to let me go.
What do you think, Papa Bear? Should I claim compensation, or should I keep my mouth shut?
* * *
Hmm, this is a complex question. You need to ask yourself, "What do I stand to gain/lose by filing a claim against my employer?" The injury happened and filing a claim won't change that. Based on your story, I don't think your employer was being deliberately neglectful or hostile to you. If your medical is being covered, then the only other thing would be asking for damages, which would definitely put off your employer and damage your relationship with them. I would also consult with a doctor and ask their opinion on what the lasting damage will be.
If it were me, and I liked my employer, I would discuss with them what happened, why it happened, and how best to avoid such things occurring in the future. I would have a meeting with them (after you know the full story with your doctor), and ask the employer if they can do anything else to help you. (Also, do you have an employment agreement? If so, read it and see what it says about lawsuits and whether you are required to go to mitigation before filing a lawsuit).
I wasn't sure about U.K. law in this matter, so a little research told me this: Unlike in the U.S. and some EU countries, the U.K. does not have workers compensation laws or programs. What your country has is the Health and Safety Executive, which requires employers to have liability insurance covering up to £5,000,000. I would work closely with your employer in a nonconfrontational way to see if their liability insurance can help you with any further medical expenses.
Yes, your employer should have had a real chef in the kitchen, and yes, oven mitts would have been better, but you also have some responsibility in being careful in the kitchen, which obviously has some hazards such as hot ovens and sharp knives. You also bear responsibility for getting further treatment, and deciding not to go to your GP for a follow-up was not the wise thing to do if you want to improve your chances for as complete a recovery as possible.
I'm sorry to hear about your injury, but I would suggest working closely with your employer, offering them feedback on how to improve the work environment, and asking them for help rather than filing a claim independently. That said, if your employer proves unhelpful or even hostile to your situation, then yes, I would consider filing for compensation. (I know your past experiences with the law have been bad, so you see my reticence in going down a legal path for you).
Wishing You a Speedy Recovery,
A note on comments: Comments on letters to Papabear are welcome, especially those that offer extra helpful advice and add something to the conversation that is of use to the letter writer and those reading this column. Also welcome are constructive criticisms and opposing views. What is NOT welcome are hateful, hurtful comments, flaming, and trolling. Such comments will be deleted from this site. Thank you.