The Dangers of the Food Service Industry
March 29, 2021
When we think about hazardous jobs, we usually do not consider the restaurant and food industry to be at the top of the list. But the truth is, food service and restaurant workers face plenty of work-related hazards. Even further complicating the issue is the median age of restaurant personnel. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), American eating and drinking businesses employ more than 11.5 million workers, and nearly 30% of them are under the age of 20. Since young workers are especially vulnerable to injuries associated with on the job safety and health failures, it is critical that food and drink-based businesses take the necessary steps to prevent avoidable workplace accidents from happening.
Common Hazards for Restaurant Workers
Employers are legally responsible for protecting employees from known and recognizable hazards. Despite having this obligation, far too many employers endanger the physical (and mental) wellbeing of their employees by failing to implement effective health and safety standards. As a result, nearly 3 million workers across different injuries sustain preventable injuries while working every year. Aside from maintaining a safe workplace, one of the first lines of defense in order to prevent avoidable injuries is for employers to inform workers about what on-the-job hazards they might come across, as well as to train them (in a language they can understand) on useful ways to avoid them.
OSHA reports that restaurant workers are likely to encounter some of the following common hazards:
- Electrical hazards. Some of the major contributors to electrical hazards are worn electrical cords and the use of damaged extension cords, improperly wired or ungrounded electrical outlets, faulty equipment and wiring, damaged receptacles and connectors, wet clean-up processes, and unsafe work practices. In order to reduce electrical hazards, employers should replace all damaged or improperly wired outlets and equipment. They should also install ground fault circuit interrupters, or GCFIs, on certain receptacles and breakers, particularly in areas where electricity and wetness coexist.
- Slips, trips, and falls. Slips, trips, and falls happen most often when working around ice bins, in busy or congested areas, on slippery or uneven floor surfaces, while carrying dishes or glassware around “blind” corners or stairs, and when using a single door entry to and from the kitchen area. Employers can implement several safe work practices to mitigate slip, trip, and fall hazards. These include keeping the establishment clean and orderly, keeping the floors clean and dry, providing warning signs to display on wet floor areas, removing clutter, providing adequate lighting and non-slip mats, installing mirrors around blind corners, and making sure that there are windows on swinging doors so that employees can see if someone is entering or exiting the kitchen or dining areas.
- Fire hazards can be the result of poor housekeeping, dirty ducts, un-emptied grease traps, faulty or frayed electrical cords, and improperly storing flammable items. Employers must provide fire extinguishers and have an emergency action plan and a fire prevention plan, and should maintain all safeguards installed on the restaurant’s heat-producing equipment. Other ways that employers can limit fire hazards include ensuring that electrical equipment is in safe working order and routinely cleaning and inspecting kitchen equipment (like grill hoods and grease traps).
- Sprains and strains. Restaurant workers are prone to sustaining sprains and strains from lifting or balancing too many plates or glasses when serving or cleaning tables, lifting large, overfilled containers, moving and lifting tables and/or chairs to accommodate customers, and balancing or lifting heavy trays above shoulder height. Employers can reduce sprain and strain hazards by providing workers with a server’s station that is in close proximity to the dining area. This decreases the distance that workers need to travel when they carry heavy items. If space allows, employers should also provide serving carts so that workers do not need to lift heavy trays.
- Burn and scald injuries occur from serving or preparing hot foods and drinks, operating machinery that produces hot items (like coffee, tea, or espresso machines), and from carrying hot plates that have been sitting under heat lamps. Employers should train workers on how to safely operate machinery and provide trays, cloths, aprons, oven mitts, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) that inhibits burn and scald risks.
- Cuts and lacerations associated with broken glass or the use of knives. Workers should never pick up broken glass with their bare hands and should never use glass to scoop ice; instead, use designated metal or plastic ice scoops. Employers must provide adequate hand protection to employees who face cut, laceration, and thermal burn risks. Keeping knives sharpened and in good condition, storing knives so that they are all facing in the same direction, and instructing employees on how to safely use knives (as well as where to store them) are other useful ways for employers to do their part in preventing cuts and lacerations.
Were You Injured at Work?
The Occupational safety and Health Act – or the OSH Act – mandates that every employer provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards, follow all OSHA safety and health standards, inform employees about hazards and train them on applicable standards, provide generalized safety training on workplace hazards, provide (and in most instances pay for) necessary PPE, and find and correct all safety and health hazards. When an employer fails to uphold his or her legal duty and a worker gets injured because of it, the victim may file a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that provides wage replacement and medical benefits to injured workers. If you were injured at work and you would like to discuss filing a workers’ compensation claim, someone at our firm can help. To learn more, contact a representative online now.
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