The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that there were 129,370 chefs and head cooks employed in the U.S. in 2015. It is an often underrated high-growth sector of the American economy, employing roughly 14 million workers at all levels of the service industry in 2015. By 2026, that number is projected to increase to almost 17 million.
Did you know that approximately 30 percent of restaurant workers in the United States are young adults under the age of 20 years? Restaurant employment is more readily found than in other sectors, which attracts both teens and college students to work within the industry. However, young adults may not have the workplace experience or safety discretion to avoid dangerous working conditions, which is figuratively a recipe for injury.
Hazard Pay for Cooks: How Dangerous Is a Career in the Kitchen?
Did you know that 50 percent of chefs and head cooks make $19.95 per hour? When you consider the number and potential of workplace injuries for kitchen workers, the pay may seem a little disproportionate, considering the level of risk.
In developed countries like Canada and the United States, restaurant workers under the age of 25 years are injured at a rate of 1.2 to 2.0 times that of adult workers in the same industry, per several research studies. The rate of non-fatal injuries related to commercial kitchen occupations was 5.1 per 100 full-time employees under the age of 30. This number is greater than the 1.5 to 3.5 injuries per 100 full-time employed restaurant workers, over the age of 30 years, realized per annum.
The frequent types of personal (and often avoidable) workplace injuries that occur among commercial restaurant workers are:
- Contact surface burns from fryers to stovetops, boiling water, and food.
- Lacerations and cuts, or puncture wounds from industrial slicing equipment, broken dishes and glassware, or knives.
- Sprains or muscle injury strains from reaching, pulling, or pushing heavy equipment; oversized pots and pans; trays of food; or removal of refuse. Dislocations are also common from weight bearing tasks and improper lifting.
- Eye injuries, including chemical burns from cleaning solvents, hot water injuries, grease spatter, or food particles, and ingredients.
- Illnesses due to toxic chemical exposure.
- Hearing loss.
- Repetitive motion or strain injuries.
One of the greatest risks to safety in commercial kitchens is “performance pressure.” Restaurants rely on high-speed preparation and delivery to customers, which is of the utmost concern to kitchen managers and supervisors. That same pressure that delivers hot food to customers increases the probability of injuries for kitchen workers, who labor under stress and time constraints that do not always allow for reasonable safety precautions. An injury or emergency however, costs more time and damage than slowing down a little and observing safety protocols to avoid injuries.
Slippery When Wet: How Hygiene Contributes to Hazards
Restaurant owners are concerned about safety of staff, but also in the appearance of cleanliness and safety for their customers. To manage the amount of grease and refuse on the kitchen floor, spills are cleaned up as they occur, and typically floors are washed at “shift change” and mopped no less than twice per day.
The problem that many restaurants encounter is that after a floor is washed, it does not remain vacant with sufficient time to dry. Wait staff, chefs, and takeout personnel can be entering and exiting the kitchen (and frequently do) on a wet floor. They also track in dirt from outside of the kitchen, which when combined with wet tile, can create a silt and slippery surface.
Subsequently, many kitchens need to use an industrial strength degreaser to remove oil from the floor and many cleansers are highly slippery. This solves one safety issue, while creating another, per slip and fall accident attorneys.
To combat the problem, many commercial kitchens use rubber mats, which both help workers by absorbing some of the shock of standing and walking on a hard surface all day, while giving them a safe, textured area to walk on when the tile is wet. Even the most expensive commercial grade rubber mats, however, can slide and move, creating an additional tripping hazard.
The solution for some commercial kitchens is to wash the floor only at the end of the day, when there will be no personnel walking on it. However, while it’s a practical theoretical approach, it does not suit cleanliness standards, and the floor can become equally hazardous and slippery when uncleaned due to food and beverage spills.
Workplace Injury Prevention: How Restaurants Can Reduce Injury Risks
The United States Department of Labor outlines that every business must have a first aid kit and adequate first aid supplies, based on customers (approved occupancy) and average staff numbers. One of the problems is that, while maintaining a first aid kit that is accessible to staff, supplies can be stolen or removed. An emergency can quickly escalate, along with the severity of personal injuries, if there is a first aid kit that is devoid of all supplies.
The U.S. Department of Labor requires that the minimum in safety supplies be maintained, and inventory checked on a regular basis. All first aid kits should include:
- 4 x 4” gauze pads.
- 2 x 8” x 10” gauze pads.
- One box of band-aids.
- One package of gauze roller bandage (2” wide minimum).
- Two triangular bandages.
- Wound cleaning substance – it can be alcohol and swabs, or sealed towelettes to disinfect.
- Sharp scissors.
- One blank for shock or duress treatment.
- One set of tweezers.
- One roll of adhesive tape.
- Latex gloves.
- Pocket mask, or resuscitation bag and equipment.
- Two elastic wraps.
- A split.
- First aid instruction booklet and local emergency numbers to call (on or inside kit).
Restaurant owners and managers should be aware that while it is legal to employ a child aged 14 years and up, there are restrictions to the type of activities that young workers can engage in, given their limited skills and experience. To check-up on your understanding of the U.S. labor laws, use this online checklist to help review and reduce the risks of workplace injuries.
William Belcher is a freelance content writer, who has years of experience in providing high-quality content for the legal industry.