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Kebab chefs struggle with masks

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Wearing a mask has become one of the most important measures against COVID-19, along with social distancing. In many areas of life, from transportation to shopping in closed areas, while everyone is trying to protect themselves from infection by wearing a mask, it can be very difficult to apply these measures in some environments.

Now that many restaurants and food outlets have opened for takeaway, hopefully even with  dine-in options again in future, with socially distanced tables inside or outdoors, a new problem presents itself: how do you wear a mask while working?

This question became more crucial for kebab takeaways as the most important pieces of equipment for kebab enterprises are grills and doner machines. These are very hot as they require a constant fire to cook and keep the meat heated.

For example, in a restaurant or takeaway, if you have to work on grills or with equipment whose temperatures reach hundreds of degrees; or deal with smells created by the smoke from burning coals or try to cut doner from the machine which cooks vertical meat at a high temperature.

Many kebab chefs complain that wearing a mask causes them trouble with breathing comfortably nowadays. However, business owners also want their staff to take care to wear masks, as they often work in visible positions. In addition, local councils frequently check restaurants and other food businesses to ensure they are COVID safe.

Chefs are also often one of the most visible staff at a kebab restaurant or takeaway.

Doner and grill chefs wear masks, as they can come into contact with customers, especially in takeaway establishments. Unfortunately, in these establishments, the chefs are usually required to wear masks, as the doner kebabs and barbecues are mostly located in visible parts of the establishment, mostly at the entrance; they can often experience discomfort while doing so.

Many chefs who spoke to the magazine say wearing a mask feels suffocating in a very hot environment. Our own breath is mixed with the scent of meat. It makes it hard to breathe, people can be breathless in jobs that require working fast, and it is very difficult for those who struggle to breathe.

“Working with a mask for a long time is very tiring” says a chef. They complain that masks make them sweat and feel overwhelmed, and when the weather gets hot, it makes their situation even more difficult. And another complains that the mask that the employer buys is generally of poor quality and has a short rubber band, causing discomfort around the ears.

BEIS: `Staff behind the barrier or screen may not be required to wear a face covering`

BritShish Magazine asked the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) which published the guidance on face coverings whether takeaway and restaurant chefs always need to wear a face covering if their job is to work behind a counter or in a kitchen preparing food? And if a risk re-assessment can be done for those businesses?

The ministry said employers must ensure all staff at venues that provide food and drink wear face coverings in areas that are open to the public and where they come or are likely to come into close contact with a member of the public, unless they have an exemption. More importantly employers must not, by law, prevent their staff from wearing a face covering where they are required to do so.

Where face coverings are required for staff, businesses are expected to provide these as part of their health and safety obligations according to BEIS. However, staff are welcome to use their own face coverings if they choose.

The Ministry also said: “If businesses have taken steps to create a physical barrier or screen between workers and members of the public then staff behind the barrier or screen will not be required to wear a face covering. Enforcement action can be taken if barriers and screens are in place which do not adequately mitigate risks.”

“Businesses already have legal obligations to protect their staff under existing employment law. This means taking appropriate steps to provide a safe working environment, which may include providing face coverings where appropriate, alongside other mitigations such as screens and social distancing. Businesses should advise workers how to use face coverings safely.”

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