3 min read

Failure to follow food allergy procedures ends in worker’s dismissal

By Jeff Salton

If your company is ever called on to serve food to your workers, either at an in-house function or other venue, being aware of potential food allergies or intolerances are paramount to staff’s health and wellbeing.

It is also vital to have a fully-equipped first aid kit and someone properly trained to administer first aid in the case of a nasty reaction.

While some people’s food allergies can be quite mild, others can be severe, as in the case below at a child care centre.

When working with young children, strict policies and procedures should be in place to ensure your charges are kept safe and well.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has upheld the dismissal of a senior educator at a child care centre whose failure to recognise a four-year-old child’s anaphylactic shock symptoms involved “a real and serious oversight”.

The tribunal heard that Minifie Park Early Childhood Centre’s lead educator, who was responsible for the pre-school room, served biscuits containing egg in July last year to children in her care, including a boy known to have an egg allergy.

Condition deteriorated

As the child began to exhibit symptoms of anaphylactic shock, the lead educator attributed them to asthma and gave him a dose of Ventolin. But his condition deteriorated further and the child’s mother was called by another staff member. At first, the lead educator denied the child had eaten a biscuit, then later said she was unsure.

When quizzed further, she admitted the child didn’t seem to enjoy the biscuit and therefore only could have consumed a tiny bit – if any – to which the boy’s mother confirmed a tiny bit would be enough for him to suffer the shock.

The mother, who had arrived at the childcare centre, requested the pre-school room’s first aid kit so that she could administer antihistamine, it was found to be missing its syringe.

The boy was soon taken by his mother to seek medical assistance where he recovered fully.

An investigation conducted by the centre’s committee found that the worker and another employee failed to recognise when the boy went into shock and therefore didn’t provide the appropriate first aid. Also, the committee said the senior worker failed to report the incident and misrepresented it to her supervisor, other workers and the child’s mother.

The centre also said the pre-school’s first aid kit was the responsibility of the lead educator who should have ensured it contained a syringe.

The worker was shown the committee’s investigation findings and given time to respond, which she did. A week later the committee dismissed her.

No alternate snacks provided

As part of her defence, the lead educator said when food was prepared containing ingredients known to cause reactions with some children, alternate snacks were provided on separate plates. This time, however, a temporary chef had cooked the biscuits and provided only the one plate. The lead educator assumed that the biscuits were safe for all the children.

Commissioner Nick Wilson said the Centre’s processes “potentially allowed” the situation to arise but the lead educator “could reasonably be called to account for her failure to follow procedure and check the status of the snack when she collected it” from the chef that day.

And while he found that other workers should also be responsible for what occurred, Commissioner Wilson found the centre had a valid reason to terminate her employment.

He said her failure to recognise the child’s symptoms involved “a real and serious oversight”.

The Commissioner was critical that the lead educator “failed to reflect” on what had happened earlier “and let either her colleagues or the mother know that the child may have had some food that caused an allergic response, or that she had administered Ventolin taking his symptoms as asthma when they could well have been something else”.

Young and vulnerable

“The combination of these matters leads to the conclusion that [the lead educator’s] actions, albeit not hers alone, contributed directly to a serious allergic reaction in a young and vulnerable child in her care and that the event was more serious than would have otherwise have been because of her oversight in keeping the emergency bag fully resourced,” he said.

The lead educator had “an obligation to be honest and forthright” during investigations so the centre “could determine and take appropriate action to deal with what had happened”, yet she gave a “misleading or inconsistent account” to avoid responsibility and tried to blame others, Commissioner Wilson said.

“The fact that there was no ultimate lasting or irreparable harm to the child is not the relevant factor; instead what is relevant is that [the lead educator’s] actions contributed to the problem occurring and then exacerbated what happened,” he said.

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