Restaurant safety: It’s not just about food safety

By Ben Hissam, BWC Industrial Safety Consultant

Having worked in restaurants as a chef or chef manager for more than 10 years, I have seen first-hand the hazards of the industry.

I remember the long hours, usually working six nights a week. It is a demanding job that you have to really love, getting satisfaction from making people happy through your work.

When I came to BWC, I decided to help develop the restaurant safety class because of my industry experience. My days in the kitchen gave me insights into restaurant operations in the front and back of the house.

I remember starting in the restaurant industry, when everything was made from scratch. This often included hand cutting vegetables and salads, meats, potatoes and more. Prep work was, and still is, a large part of the job. Ergonomic-related injuries – including repetitive hand motions, prolonged standing, lifting produce cases, etc. – are some of the most common injuries in the business.

Other common hazards include cuts, burns, and slips, trips and falls. Unlike the imminent danger hazards in construction and manufacturing, hazards in restaurants tend toward first-aid types of injuries. Rarer are reportable injuries such as amputations or fatalities from entanglement in a large industrial mixer or buffalo chopper, which are more likely in food processing than in a restaurant.

The restaurant industry is partially exempt from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recordkeeping requirements. People attending the restaurant safety courses I teach say they are often more concerned with health department inspections.

Restaurant staff usually attend food safety classes, like servsafe, that focus on the safety of food prep and storage, areas the health department regulates. However, it’s also important they not overlook the standards that OSHA regulates in the restaurant industry, including:

  • Hazard communication – exposure to corrosive sanitation and cleaning chemicals.
  • Walking working surfaces – slippery or cluttered floors.
  • Machine guarding – powered equipment, slicers, mixers, etc.
  • Lock out – cord and plug control single point lock out.
  • Personal protective equipment – slip-resistant shoes, cut-resistant gloves, thermal protection etc.
  • Emergency action plans – one-way exit discharge blocked by trash staging in back of house.
  • Electrical – ground-fault circuit interrupter protection where conductive services are located.

Other hazards restaurants should address include awkward lifting and bending, and workplace violence, such as robbery or fights among employees.

We offer classroom and online courses to help restaurants address hazards and develop comprehensive safety plans to protect their workers. You can learn more or register online. I hope to see you in class!

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