Last week’s disastrous gas cylinder explosion at a Jeddah restaurant has turned into a tragedy with two people dying of their terrible burns and two more still on the critical list.
This once again throws the spotlight on the criminal lack of elementary care that is taken in so many small shops and restaurants throughout the Kingdom. A lack of basic safety precautions, the absence of proper fire evacuation procedures, to say nothing of fire fighting equipment are only part of the story. As inspectors continue to discover, restaurants are preparing food in unsanitary conditions and worse, on occasions, serving rotten meat to their customers.
While it is tempting, as suggested in yesterday’s edition of this paper, to make corrupt owners eat their own food and suffer the health consequences, the reality is that this is not going to change their ways. Indeed poisoning them with their own food is letting them get off lightly. The answer has to be to hit them in the place where their greed has taken them, with stringent fines, and if they fail to comply with health regulations, with the forced closure of their business, on a permanent basis.
It is entirely wrong in this day and age that diners should be at risk from drinking bottled water that is in reality from the tap or food that is dangerously out of date and worse, has been cooked in germ-ridden, unclean kitchens by people who have not ensured their own personal cleanliness and wear stained, unlaundered clothing.
It does not matter if an eatery is catering for expatriate laborers with limited budgets or is a standard family restaurant, the same basic standards of safety have to be applied. There can be no cutting corners.
One problem facing officials charged with enforcing health and safety regulations in the food and retail sectors, is that while they have a full armory of sensible regulations to back them up, they will time and again be told by offenders that they were not aware of this or that rule. Now while ignorance of the law can be no defense, the reality is that a busy shopkeeper or restaurateur may very well not have made himself familiar with the small print of regulations. Once warned of course, the problem should be fixed immediately. However, it may be, especially with the many new businesses that are springing up throughout the Kingdom, that the failures are inadvertent rather than deliberate and motivated by greed.
There is a way around this. Large businesses are already well acquainted with the process of risk assessment and risk management. It is a discipline that requires a company to identify anything that could go wrong with a particular enterprise and do everything that it can to mitigate the dangers. If the owners of food outlets and other small shopkeepers were obliged to complete a standard risk assessment appropriate to their business and file it with the authorities, then there would be no excuse for such deadly failings as those which took the lives of two people in the Jeddah restaurant.