A recent beta test of an air curtain specially designed for restaurant drive-thru windows proved to protect teenage workers from extreme temperature exposures and continual vehicle emissions inhalation. Vehicle emissions inhalation is a growing concern at the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Headache, fatigue, flu-like effects, heart problems, and other symptoms related to carbon monoxide poisoning are a concern at all quick-serve restaurants, according to OSHA. The escalating trend of drive-thru transactions, which the National Restaurant Association (NRA) lists as more than half of quick-serve business today (among quick serves with drive-thru windows), is exacerbating the potential hazard. Combined with the continual uncomfortable environmental temperature differentials, vehicle emissions inhalation could possibly be a contributor to the restaurant industry’s high average of 145 percent employee turnover.

The six-month-long beta test at Arby’s store #5775 in Struthers, Ohio, by equipment manufacturer Berner International of New Castle, Pennsylvania, posed the manufacturer’s new Drive-Thru Unit (DTU) air curtain against external environmental conditions at a drive-thru window station. Specially designed with the proper air velocity, volume, and uniformity necessary for drive-thru window opening dimensions, the 18-inch long DTU strategically discharges air from top to bottom of the drive-thru window to maintain the all-important “split” of indoor/outdoor environments a few inches outside the threshold. The air discharge is strong enough to stop infiltrating outdoor air, vehicle emissions, and insects, but doesn’t blow money out of hands penetrating the airstream.

“Fumes infiltrating the restaurant were all but eliminated and drive-thru employees were able to wear normal indoor uniforms instead of heavy coats and gloves during wintertime operations,” says Vicki Vitullo, general manager of the beta-test Arby’s store, one of nine Arby’s franchises owned by Niles Restaurant Business of Youngstown, Ohio. “If for some reason we forget to switch the air curtain on, fumes and cold weather are definitely noticeable.”

On its Web site’s “Teen Worker Safety in Restaurants” page, OSHA outlines several solutions for employers wanting to eliminate the potential vehicle emissions hazard: Use a reverse-flow fan system (air curtain) to prevent exhaust from entering the interior drive-thru window area; provide adequate space and ventilation for both exterior and interior drive-thru areas; or rotate workers to minimize time spent stationed in the drive-thru area.

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