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The foodservice and hospitality industry is considered to be one of the largest employers worldwide, with well over 12 million workers in North America alone. As such a large business sector, the number of reported workplace injuries is disproportionately high compared to other types of work. This is also compounded by the fact that many of these workers are under the age of 20 and don’t always have the experience necessary to keep themselves safe.

Physical injuries, lost time and insurance claims have a huge impact on any industry, and foodservice is no exception. Every year there are hundreds of thousands of reported injuries coming from restaurants, bars, catering kitchens and food production facilities.

Specific job training and having a clear understanding of the role that prevention plays in minimizing workplace risk are the keys to safety. Loose, on-the-job training only goes so far, and it is strongly recommended that all workers seriously considering the field as a career undertake some sort of formal training. Many colleges offer courses in culinary arts, in addition to certificates for general foodservice workers. These programs are a great way to get a jump-start on the experience necessary to be both successful and safe.

Formal training prior to employment for all workers would be an ideal situation, but the reality is that the industry is very much built on a part-time and student workforce. In these cases, even with decent on-the-job training, there will still be a trial by fire (no pun intended) when it comes to safety precautions. The following is a breakdown of some of the more common hazards that can be expected:

Cuts & Working with Knives

  • All applicable staff should be trained in the proper use of knives BEFORE they start to work
  • Knives work best (and are actually safer) when they are sharper and well maintained
  • Always store knives with the blades covered
  • Never leave knives lying on counters or loose in sinks where they could fall or be accidentally grabbed
  • For high production cutting or slicing, be sure to wear puncture-proof gloves and a protective apron
  • Keep all machine guards in-place on electric slicers and ensure that all operation is carried out by authorized personnel only

Fire Safety

  • All staff should be trained in fire safety and evacuation procedures. Don’t assume that everyone will know what to do in the case of an alarm.
  • Keep adequate fire safety and suppression equipment within reach and ensure that fire extinguishers are suitable for all potential types of fires (grease, chemical, electrical, paper)
  • Keep fire exits clearly marked and free of obstructions
  • Never leave ranges or stoves unattended while in use
  • Keep all cloths and aprons etc. away from hot surfaces or sources of flame
  • Keep range hoods and stoves free of grease build-up to the reduce the risk of fire
  • Do not overload electrical outlets, remove grounding pins from cords or use any equipment that appears unsafe

Burns & Scalds

  • Always use potholders to lift or move hot dishes
  • Give yourself enough room to move to avoid bumps and spills
  • Always stand back from equipment or containers that may release hot steam
  • Always wear long sleeves in the kitchen
  • Reduce water heater temperatures to avoid scalds
  • Install temperature or pressure relief valves and other safety devices on equipment to avoid explosive releases

Slips & Falls

  • Keep all floors, clean, dry and free of clutter
  • Footwear should have non-slip soles
  • Ensure that work areas have adequate lighting
  • Post signs or barriers to warn of wet or slippery floors
  • Use non-slip mats at workstations and in high traffic areas
  • Busy staff should communicate their movements with terms like ‘walking’ or ‘behind’ to avoid collisions with co-workers, especially when carrying hot items

Moving Heavy Loads

  • Always lift with your legs, take small steps, and don’t twist
  • Use a dolly, cart or a co-worker to help with heavy loads. Don’t be a hero.
  • Store heavy materials at waist height to avoid bending or lifting overhead
  • Employees should wear a support belt when excessive lifting is expected

General Tips

  • All new employees should be fully trained based on their individual level of experience. Keep records and re-train where necessary.
  • Conduct routine safety inspections and check all workplace elements that have been identified as hazardous.
  • Ensure that the facility has adequate first aid supplies for the number of employees, and that management or assigned personnel are trained in their application. All significant injuries should be documented and kept on record.
  • Post warning and reminder signs throughout the facility to help reinforce safety best practices
  • Make sure that employees are trained on the use of chemicals, the dangers of mixing, protective gear, storage and ventilation

The food service industry is fast paced, transient and typically has high employee turnover. You also may have young workers and language barriers to contend with on top of everything else. As an employer, it's important to really know your business, and to ensure that you have accounted for all potential workplace hazards.

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