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Safety for Restaurant Workers

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 12 Nov 2019 | comments*Discuss
Restaurant Workers Knives Slips And

Restaurant workers face four main safety risks: dermatitis, accidents with knives, musculosketal disorders, and slips and trips.


One of the major health problems among cooks, chefs and catering assistants is contact dermatitis, otherwise known as eczema. Twice as many incidents of dermatitis occur with restaurant workers than in other industries.

Dermatitis results in a lot of time off. Sufferers may even have to change careers.

The problems start when the skin's natural protective function ceases to work. Cracking, flaking, redness, blistering, swelling and itching soon follow. The most commonly affected areas of the body are the hands, forearms and face.

The causes of dermatitis lie in the restaurant kitchen. Contact with cleaning products, water and even food can encourage the condition. Sensitive skin can react badly to all of these and have an allergic reaction.

The best approach is to reduce the risk. A dishwasher, for instance is preferable to washing by hand. And workers should use utensils to handle food.

Other safety measures include using suitable gloves, and applying moisturising cream to the skin. Frequent attention to the skin also helps to identify symptoms early. Medical treatment can then resolve any problem more quickly.

Accidents With Knives

Knives and cleavers cut easily into fingers, hands and arms. A slip with a knife can also lead to a cut on the legs, stomach, chest or face.

Knife and cleaver injuries among restaurant workers are common. Employers should assess the risk and take a series of measures to improve safety.

To begin with, all staff in the restaurant kitchen must know how to use and sharpen knives safely. Training can be critical in avoiding accidents.

Different knives perform different tasks. It's vital to use the right knife for the job in hand.

Restaurant workers should never cut food on an unstable surface. All cutting boards and tables must be secure.

Accidents with knives occur during the washing up. Workers therefore need to be especially careful when cleaning knives.

Restaurant workers must not carry knives in an upright or horizontal position. Knives should always point downwards.

Suitable protective clothing when using knives and cleavers includes a chainmail glove on the hand holding the food, and a chainmail apron.

Finally, when stored, knives should be in a drawer, container or scabbard.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

Restaurant workers do a lot of manual handling. They lift and carry crates of food, take trays and plates in and out of the kitchen area, and perform repetitive physical tasks.

Over time, such physical activity can take its toll on the body. Back pain develops, or aches and strains occur to the neck, shoulders, hands and wrists.

Employers must carry out a risk assessment. The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 stress the need to avoid hazardous manual handling when possible; assess the risk of injury from hazardous manual handling; and reduce the risk of injury.

The risk assessment must cover all aspects of restaurant work. This includes maintenance and cleaning. Employers must look at the working environment of the restaurant; the types of load workers are carrying; and individual abilities.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a set of recommendations:

  • Make staff aware of the dangers of manual handling
  • Take action to prevent or reduce the possibility of a manual handling injury
  • Arrange training in manual handling for staff
  • Don't ignore pains and aches - discover the cause

These recommendations help avoid hazardous manual handling and consequent musculoskeletal disorders.

Slips and Trips

Slips and trips are the main cause of workplace injuries in the UK. And more slips and trips occur with chefs, kitchen assistants and waiting staff than anyone else.

Generally speaking, three simple remedies can prevent many slips and trips happening. The first is to use appropriate flooring. The right type of flooring can stop many people from slipping.

The second remedy is footwear. Restaurant workers should wear shoes with anti-slip soles. And they should avoid high-heeled footwear.

The third remedy relates to food and liquid spillages. Restaurant workers should clean up any spillage as a priority. This applies as much to leaking plumbing and fridges as it does to other spills.

A risk assessment should highlight slip and trip hazards. Employers should fix a damaged floor, for example. They should make sure staff understand the need to keep walkways clear of obstacles. And they should ensure workers empty equipment such as deep fat fryers with care.


Safety for restaurant workers is a serious responsibility. Employers must take every precaution necessary. And staff must take personal responsibility for keeping safety standards as high as possible.

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[Add a Comment]
Is it a risk to health and safety of a worker to clean walls behind an oven that is still being used and a fryer that has only been turned off for about half an hour sometimes less??
TMW - 12-Nov-19 @ 2:52 PM
Bree - Your Question:
Is illegal to work at a restaurant without air conditioning or ventillation and every employee is sweating even the waitresses.

Our Response:
You can see more via the HSE link here which should help answer your question.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 31-Jul-17 @ 12:49 PM
Is illegal to work at a restaurant without air conditioning or ventillation and every employee is sweating even the waitresses.
Bree - 29-Jul-17 @ 4:29 AM
My sons girlfriend works for a well known pizza shop. She was told to clean one of the ovens - while it was still on. My question is should she have been given oven gloves to protect her hands/arms and is it the law to provide employees with them?
Jan - 5-Jul-16 @ 11:39 PM
@Jules - you don't say in what capacity you are working there, so it makes it hard to advise. You would need to look in your company safety manual. Does your line manager know you are diabetic? If you are worried about being left alone, then you should in the first instance talk to your higher about your concerns.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 27-Mar-15 @ 2:41 PM
Is it legal to work, on my own, in an industrial kitchen? I am also a diabetic
Jules - 26-Mar-15 @ 10:59 AM
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