Restaurant Safety: How to Stand the Heat and Stay in the Kitchen

05/16/2011

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching reality TV shows like “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Top Chef Masters,” it’s that working in a restaurant is chaotic, fast-paced and filled with drama—which is why it’s so important for restaurants and restaurant employees to follow certain safety procedures.

The restaurant industry employs about 12.7 million people, or 9% of the U.S. workforce, according to the National Restaurant Association. About one-third of restaurant employees are teens. For this reason, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a web site devoted to educating restaurants and their teenage employees on safety measures. The tips can apply to adult workers as well.

According to the OSHA web site, common restaurant safety concerns include:

Burns. Whenever a server brings me my meal and says, “Be careful, the plate is hot,” I think, “How hot can it be?” The answer is: hot enough to burn you. Restaurant employees can also suffer burns while preparing hot foods or drinks, unloading hot dishes and utensils from the dishwasher, and reaching over candles on tables. While preventive measures such as using oven mitts and potholders can help, they can’t eliminate the chance for injury. There’s always a possibility that an employee will get splashed with hot grease or oil, for instance. So, part of restaurant safety involves having accessible first aid kits and providing basic first aid training to employees.

Cuts. First aid kits and first aid training can also help in treating cuts. Employees can accidentally cut themselves while cleaning up broken glass or handling knives and other sharp utensils.

Repetitive motion injuries. Prolonged standing on hard work surfaces such as concrete can create contact trauma and pain in the feet. Anti-fatigue mats are helpful for employees who stand for long periods of time, such as cooks. These mats help contract and expand the muscles of the person standing on them, increasing blood flow and reducing fatigue.

Slips, trips and falls. Even though you may feel like the service is slow when you go out to eat, I can assure you the restaurant employees feel otherwise. Servers rushing to take customer orders, fulfill patron requests and clear dirty tables—and dodging other servers who are doing the same—may be moving so quickly that they don’t notice hazards they normally would, causing them to slip, trip or fall. Restaurants may not be able to slow down the pace of the job, but they can remove many of the hazards. In fact, OSHA requires employers to “keep all places of employment clean and orderly and in a sanitary condition.” This means keeping floors free of debris, mopping up spills immediately and keeping floors dry. When the floor is wet, make sure to put up wet floor signs. Another way to prevent slips and falls on wet surfaces is to use non-slip matting in areas that tend to be wet, such as around the ice machine.

Improper attire and gear. Restaurants can encourage and even require employees to wear certain attire and gear as part of their safety procedures. For example, slip-resistant shoes prevent slips and falls, gloves protect hands from sharp objects and chemicals such as dishwashing detergents, and aprons prevent loose clothing from getting caught in kitchen equipment.

Working in a restaurant will always be chaotic, but it doesn’t have to be dangerous. By taking the safety precautions mentioned above, employers can leave the drama to reality show divas.

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