Have you ever been injured at work?  Workplace injuries are a lot more common than you might think and decided to identify the hazards and provide some timely tips on how to improve kitchen safety.

Workplace safety is of paramount importance.  Hazards exist in all workplaces in every industry, risk assessments and hazard management is designed to lower those workplace risks.  How we manage those risks as business owners or employees dramatically impacts on the overall safety within our workplace.

The foodservice industry, like other industries, are required to meet compliance guidelines set by Safework to ensure workplace safety for both employees and the customers we serve.

Commercial kitchens have numerous hazards which, when not managed correctly result in severe injury or loss of life.  Safework Australia reports that 6% of all workplace injuries occur in cafes, restaurants, pubs, taverns and bars.

Although risks impact on all age groups, young workers, in particular, are at risk.    Common injuries amongst workers include musculoskeletal, open wounds and burns, followed by contusion/internal injury, fractures and injury from an external foreign body.

Whether you are a chef, kitchen hand, waiter or waitress, kitchen hazards are real.  Let’s take a look at those risks in more detail.

Common Kitchen Hazards Injuries

With over 500,000 workplace injuries occurring annually in Australia and 6% within the foodservice industry, knowing the potential hazards and how to avoid them could save you or one of your colleagues from unnecessary harm.

Here are the top 10 injuries you’ll want to avoid which plague commercial kitchens, they are:

  • Knife cuts
  • Burn hazards
  • Injury from machines
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Lifting injuries
  • Head & eye Injuries
  • Crowded workspace risks
  • Chemical hazards
  • Fire hazards
  • Electric shock

Knife injuries in the workplace

According to Safework knife injuries account for 3% of all injuries.  Injuries to hands and fingers are most common in the commercial kitchens and occur during the food preparation process while cutting, slicing and dicing vegetables and boning meat.

Most injuries are often the result of using the wrong knife for the job or a dull blade; we recommend watching this timely video on how to prevent knife cuts.

Some highlights from the video and the Safework website include:

  • Keep knives well maintained and sharp – as dull blades will more easily slip off food and into your finger.
  • Always use the correct knife for the job.
  • Cut away from your body when trimming or deboning.
  • Knives should comfortable to use and easy to grip.
  • Do not leave knives in washing water and return immediately to storage holders such as a bag or magnetic strip directly after use.
  • When carrying knives point the blade downwards
  • Use last slice devices to prevent injury.
  • Avoid holding conversations while cutting, focus on your task.

The above safety tips are the easiest way of avoiding knife injuries.

Burn Hazards

Burn hazards are an undeniable threat in the kitchen.  Hot surfaces, direct flame and working with hot oils, handling hot pots, pans and trays all provide an opportunity to inflict serious injury.

Burns occur with direct contact with flames, electricity and chemicals.  Scalding results from direct contact with hot liquids like boiling water, steam and oils used for cooking.

Protective clothing is essential to guard against the ever-present threat of injury, eyewear and heat-resistant gloves and aprons are the best protection against injury from oil splatter.

Degrees of burns

A qualified medical practitioner should access all burns.  Below are the three degrees of burns;

  • First-degree – mild damage present on the outer layer of skin, redness of the skin, painful but no blistering.
  • Second-degree – caused by direct contact with flame or hot liquids – symptoms are redness, blistering, swelling and pain.  Burns can appear white (due to blistering) risk of infection is possible.
  • Third-degree – both the outer and inner layers of skin are destroyed, damage to bone, muscles and tendons can occur. Burnt skin can be white, black or yellow, and have a stiff, dry, leathery feel. Often the burn victim will not feel pain in the burn area due to nerve damage and may require skin grafts and intensive care to ward-off risk of infection.

Note:  Steam can reach temperatures over 400°F.  Steam burns tend to be far more intense than scalding from boiling water.

For more information on burn severity and measures you can take to guard against burns, check-out the injury prevention and safety tips on the Workcover or Safework websites.

Reducing the burn risks

Simple ways you can minimise accident risks;

  • Avoid overcrowding in the kitchen area; often, spills are the result of direct contact with another individual.
  • Ensure staff have proper training in how to handle hot items and appliances.
  • Turn pot handles inward to avoid accidental spillage by passers-by and avoid placing handles over heat sources.
  • Ensure that spills are immediately cleaned up and wear footwear with slip-resistant properties.
  • Add a gravity feed chute from the deep-fryer to avoid direct handling of hot oils.
  • Use a trolley to carry or serve hot liquids or crockery.
  • Wear heat-resistant clothing.
  • Install serving windows to keep serving staff out of the kitchen.
  • Keep all equipment well maintained
  • Develop safe systems
  • Ensure staff have training in first-aid techniques.

Chemical Hazards

Approximately 4% of all injuries are attributed to contact with a chemical or substance.  Working with chemicals is a daily part of keeping your kitchen clean and sanitised. Businesses in the foodservice industry are obligated to comply with the strict guidelines for the handling and preparation of food.  The Food Authority hands out severe penalties for companies who fail to adhere to the act and publicly names offenders on their shame list.

It is essential to understand the different use-cases of certain types of chemicals and sanitisers and the dangers if not used correctly.  Check with your supplier as to any limitations or handling hazards and ensure;

  • All chemicals are stored in a secure and dry location.
  • All bottles are clearly marked.
  • Eye protection and gloves are worn.

I suggest reading our in-depth guide on the cleaning and sanitising commercial kitchens. We discuss the dangers of food poisoning and cross-contamination through poor sanitation habits and provide insights on how to clean and sanitise your kitchen more effectively.

Injury from machines

Did you know that 3% of all workplace injuries occur from cutting, slicing and sawing?  Working with machines has its associated risks, but there are steps you can take to lower those risks and avoid unnecessary injuries, they are;

  • Ensure adequate training for all staff.
  • Do not operate machinery if you are tired, ill or under the influence of alcohol or medication.
  • Ensure you have adequate space and not likely to be knocked by other staff while operating machinery.
  • Do not operate machinery with loose clothing or unbound hair which may likely become tangled in the machine. If the manufacturer has fitted guards, make sure you and your team know how to use them.
  • Ensure emergency safety switches are within easy reach should your clothing become snagged or injury occurs.
  • Remove all potential trip and slip hazards around your work area.

Slips, trips and falls

Trips and falls account for 16% of all workplace injuries within the foodservice industry and occur on the same level.

The majority of accidents appear to be mostly preventable with most injuries resulting from liquid spills, wet or overly polished floors and uneven surfaces.

Common causes of trips, slips and falls are;

  • Wet or slippery surfaces
  • Uneven or deteriorated floor surfaces
  • Stepped floors or raised doorways
  • Obstructions in walkways

Simple safety measures to avoid accidental falls;

  • Report any potential hazards to management immediately.
  • Take immediate steps to clean spills immediately.
  • Block access to wet areas and use of cautionary signage.
  • Install transition ramps to overcome variations in floor heights, raised doorways or sliding door frames.
  • Keep walkways clear of deliveries, empty boxes, crates, bins, cleaning or catering equipment at all times.
  • Consider installing non-slip floor covering in any potential spill or wet areas.
  • Wear non-slip footwear.

Head & eye injuries

Head injuries account for 11% of all injuries amongst male and female workers across all industries.  Interestingly enough, the majority of head injuries occur through overhanging shelves or accessing tight, confined places such as reaching for items on shelves or walk-in fridges.

Another alarming statistic is that eye injuries count for six per cent of all head injuries, most of which are the result of splatter from hot oil, steam or water.

Some simple preventative steps would help reduce the occurrence of injury by;

  • Mount shelves high enough so as not to represent an injury hazard as staff go about their daily routine.
  • When accessing confined spaces, take note of objects and potential dangers around you.
  • Ensure protective clothing and eyewear is worn, such as goggles or full-face guards when handling hot oils or chemicals.
  • When moving objects, exercise caution to limit the potential of injury to others around you.

Crowded workspace risks

Accordingly, to Worksafe statistics, 8% of all workplace injuries result from hitting a stationary object such as trolleys, equipment, fittings and fixtures.  Often, overcrowding in the workplace is to blame and increases the risk of spills, slips and falls in the kitchen.

Ensure walkways are kept clear at all times and do not hurry from one task to another, running increases the chance of slipping and the severity of the injury.  Ensure you have sufficient workspace in the kitchen for chefs and kitchen hands and limit the need for serving staff to enter the kitchen if possible.

Lifting injuries

Handling of stock and deliveries, lifting and moving crates of food, wash trays are all in a day’s work in the foodservice industry.  According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 24% of all workplace injuries are attributed to lifting, pushing, pulling or bending.

Muscle strains and musculoskeletal damage can occur at any time; injuries often happen due to;

  • Overexertion – incorrect lifting of heavy objects.
  • Overextension – overreaching while handling items.
  • Repetitive injuries – injuries due to muscle overuse or bad posture.

The best injury prevention is to know your limits, keep correct posture, use a step ladder to avoid overreaching and where possible use equipment to limit the risk of overexertion.

Worksafe provides a guide on manual tasks and how you can reduce sprains and strains at your workplace.

Fire hazards

Commercial kitchens are host to a variety of hazardous fuels, flammable liquids and gases which can cause catastrophic damage, severe injury and death.  It is essential to identify risks to eliminate the potential of accidentally igniting fuel sources.

Primary fire hazards in commercial kitchens are;

  • Gas ranges
  • Grills
  • Hot plates
  • Ovens (electric and wood-fired)
  • Deep-fat fryers
  • Charcoal heaters
  • Combustible residues in exhaust ducts
  • Cleaning fluids

Accidents often occur due to inadequate supervision, training or mismanagement, some examples are;

  • Equipment left on without supervision.
  • Gas blow torches used for browning some dishes.
  • Faulty thermostats or defective equipment.
  • Failure to clean or follow regular equipment maintenance schedules.

The best way to avoid injury is to carry out periodic inspections of all equipment for signs of premature wear and tear and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning and maintenance of all equipment.

A paper on commercial kitchen fires you might find beneficial reading is “Lessons learned from commercial kitchen fire investigations“.

Electric shock

Electric shocks are a genuine hazard in commercial kitchens due to the number of appliances in use.  Faulty equipment or wiring, improper use or exposure of the machine or it’s connectors to liquids, moisture or heat can create a shock hazard.

Staff should be aware;

  • Keep power leads of the floor area to avoid damage.
  • Do not use faulty equipment or equipment with frayed or damaged power cord.
  • Do not plug in equipment with wet hands.
  • If electrocution occurs – do not touch the victim until the power source has been turned off.
  • Report faulty equipment.

Report any potential workplace safety issues immediately to WHS officer.

Our final thoughts

As you can see, the complexity and operation of modern equipment have the potential to cause injury – especially when factoring the human element, which is to err.   Fortunately, by educating yourself and others of the risks will go a long way in reducing workplace accidents and ensure you and your colleagues return home safely after every shift.