Kitchen cleaner wins pay-out after slipping on liquid oozing from problematic ovens

LONDON - FEBRUARY 24:  Police officers stand guard outside of an entrance to Britain's Houses of Parliament with large concrete blocks providing extra protection in the foreground on February 24, 2005 in London, England. The Prevention of Terrorism Bill will be further scrutinized by the Commons on Monday before passing to the Lords. Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended his controversial anti-terror proposals which include detaining suspects under house arrest without trial. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Commercial ovens that were leaking “brown fatty liquid” for the best part of five years have been blamed for a slip incident that saw a House of Commons cleaner awarded thousands of pounds in compensation this week.   

Central London County Court heard that Kiplin Gayle injured his back and elbow when he slipped on a puddle of brown fatty liquid oozing from ovens in the kitchen used to cook MPs their weekly roast dinner.

The kitchen’s five ovens are used every Wednesday to produce roast dinners for MPs after the exertions of Prime Minister’s question time, according to the Evening Standard.

However, it reported that since 2012, a “brown, slippery, fatty effluent” has been leaking from the ovens, leaving a slip hazard which kitchen bosses failed to tackle.

Mr Gayle, from Islington who has worked in the Palaces of Westminster for several years as a contracted cleaner, sued for £10,000 in costs and damages after his injury, which occurred when he was working in the kitchen on a night shift last April.

On the night of his fall, the dirty ovens were being put through a three-hour chemical self-clean, but because of ageing door seals, the liquid – a combination of roasting juices and cleaning chemicals – was leaking on to the floor of the kitchen, the paper said.

It published pictures showing Mr Gayle lying flat on his back in the middle of the kitchen after the fall, while a separate image clearly shows five separate puddles of liquid on the floor.

Mark Hill, the executive chef in charge of all 12 House of Commons kitchens, told the court the type of meat used in the weekly roast is regularly changed, and preparing the feasts can leave the ovens “particularly dirty.”

He said he had been unaware of the “brown filthy puddles” on the floor of the Terrace Kitchen which Mr Gayle had to contend with until he was alerted by the evidence in the case.

Victoria Webb, representing the Corporate Officer of the House of Commons, argued that the kitchen cleaners could not expect the kitchens to be clean when they arrived as it was their job to clean them.

The Standard reported that she said Mr Gayle should have cleaned the floor and made it safe himself before starting his other tasks.

However Judge Shanti Mauger, in her ruling, said: “I entirely agree that a cleaner’s job is to clean and they cannot expect to come into a clean kitchen. But they can expect that machinery in the kitchen will be maintained so as not to regularly cause a hazard.”

She added: “There was an ongoing regular problem of this nature with the ovens. There were widespread patches of dark brown liquid on many areas of the floor. The House of Commons is responsible for the ovens, not the cleaning contractors.”

The judge found that numerous House of Commons employees, including chefs, “knew about the problem, but didn’t pass it on to the management,” who “ought to have known about the defects” in the ovens.

The Corporate Officer of the House of Commons was ordered to pay Mr Gayle £3,400 in damages for his injuries, plus £6,940.80 for his legal costs.

Mr Gayle continues to work at the House of Commons.

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