When thinking about the most dangerous jobs in the world, “line cook” isn’t likely to top the list. But if you think about the back-of-house environment, safety hazards abound. From slippery floors and sharp objects to hot fryer oil, restaurants can be a perilous place. Fortunately, there are steps you can take and technology you can incorporate to help ensure the safety and well-being of your employees. Here are the dos and don’ts to keep top of mind as you commit to the year of the safer kitchen.

1. DO actively identify the risks.

It’s hard to prevent accidents if you don’t know what causes them. The most common types of injuries that occur in restaurants are cuts, lacerations, and punctures; slips, trips, and falls; sprains, strains and overexertion; and burns and scalds. Knowing the facts can help you stay ahead of back-of-house operational risks.

Fact: Cuts, lacerations and punctures account for 22 percent of restaurant accidents and occur when employees are using knives for peeling, dicing, mincing and slicing. These types of injuries can also happen when using powered equipment, such as food slicers, meat grinders, mixers and blenders.

Fact: Slips, trips and falls, which can happen in the front of house and back of house, are most often caused by some type of liquid, oil, grease or food on the floor. Twenty percent of injuries fall into this category.

Fact: Sprains, strains and overexertion comprise 15 percent of restaurant injuries and happen because employees are lifting objects, bending, climbing, crawling, reaching for something or twisting.

Fact: Burns and scalds account for 13 percent of restaurant injuries and are caused primarily by the spilling and/or splashing of hot fats, oils, hot beverages and other food products. They also occur when employees come in contact with hot stovetops, ovens, grills, pots, pans, trays and steam.

2. DO invest in safety training. 

Knowing the most common injuries and accidents that occur is only half the battle. It’s important to properly train all front-of-house and back-of-house staff and to encourage adherence to safety protocols to help minimize risks in the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides training resources online at www.osha.gov that includes videos, safety fact sheets and break-room posters. Here are some easy tips to incorporate into your day-to-day operations from the OSHA “Stay Safe in the Restaurant” manual.

  • Make sure the machine guards are installed on all meat slicers, mixers, baking machines and similar types of equipment.
  • Place all necessary equipment, utensils, pots and pans within reach of the shortest worker.
  • Store heavy and frequently used items on racks that are no lower than hip height and no higher than chest height.
  • Buy and install thick rubber mats to make standing more comfortable.
  • Get help from coworkers when handling bulky or heavy loads.
  • Ensure walking paths are clear of clutter and free of spills.
  • Provide splashguards around hot surfaces.
  • Have a first-aid kit for burns readily available in the working area.
  • Cool oil and grease before handling.
  • Grip objects, tools, equipment and knives with the whole hand, not just a few fingers.

3. DON’T shy away from technology.

Old-fashioned methods are no longer an option to ensure a safer back-of-house operation. There’s a wave of digital tools and other technologies becoming increasingly popular in the restaurant industry, from self-ordering kiosks to mobile pay enablement. While these advancements are helping streamline front-of-house operations, they don’t necessarily influence safety where the magic happens—back of house. For that, you need to consider equipment that addresses one of the primary hazards in the kitchen—burns and injuries caused by hot fryer oil and grease fires.

Automated oil-management system. This type of closed system limits the exposure employees have to hot fryer oil because it automates the delivery, storage, handling and disposal of cooking oil. Workers don’t have to empty fryer vats to clean or replace the hot oil, and they no longer need to lug heavy containers of used oil to a dumpster. Automating this process can help reduce slips, falls, burns and strains.

Automated hood and flue cleaning system. A hidden danger in the back of house lies in the hoods, flues and fans in your kitchen—and the grease and residue that build up over time as a byproduct of cooking. This substance can be flammable if not addressed and removed on a consistent basis. Traditional hood and flue cleaners require a cleaning crew to come on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. Restaurant owners have to completely shut down their kitchen to scrape or wash away grease with harsh chemicals, often leaving behind a mess or damaged equipment. An automated cleaning system eliminates the need for costly, messy cleanups by automating the entire process.

A Competitive Edge

By addressing hazardous areas within the kitchen, providing proper safety training and implementing automated systems to further reduce common injuries, you can create a safer environment for your employees. What’s more, mitigating risks can also help improve morale and foster a desirable working environment, giving you a leg up in a competitive industry.

Tina Swanson leads the Field Sales, Customer Experience, Account Management, and Sales Force Effectiveness functions at Restaurant Technologies with the goal of expanding the overall value that we bring to customers every day through process rigor and exceptional service. Tina has nearly 20 years of experience in Human Resources, Sales, Marketing, and Six Sigma. She spent many years at General Electric Company and Ceridian Corporation before joining Restaurant Technologies in 2012.
Business Advice, Outside Insights, Restaurant Operations, Story