Restaurants can range in size from a small local diner to a large hotel restaurant, and generally consist of three main areas: the kitchen, where the preparation and cooking of meals takes place; the food service, which provides the service of food to guests in the restaurant; and the bar, a lounge which provides live or recorded entertainment and sales of alcoholic beverages and food.
Kitchen personnel include chefs and cooks, who are responsible for preparing and cooking food; pantry persons, who prepare the food for cooking and also keep an inventory of stock; and stewards, who are responsible for the cleaning and maintenance of the kitchen area.
Several different types of accidents can occur in the kitchen area, such as burns from deep fryers, slipping on grease and cuts from knives. Lack of maintenance or improper maintenance in the kitchen area can lead to accidents. Floors that have been mopped should always have a “Wet Floor” placard posted, or kitchen personnel may slip and injure themselves. Trays of food or dishes must be stored securely or they will topple over. Non-slip mats and non-slip floor waxes should be used at entrances and exits. Passageways should always be kept free of boxes, trash cans and other obstacles. Conditions that could cause an accident, such as loose floor tiles, exposed wiring, spills and so on, should always be reported and dealt with as soon as possible and a reporting mechanism should be in place in the workplace.
Another cause of accidents is not using the proper equipment to reach items kept on upper shelves. Items on high shelves should only be retrieved by using a ladder or step stool and not by climbing on boxes or chairs. This means that ladders and step stools must be kept in a convenient location and be in good repair.
Machines, cutting equipment and knives
Accidents and injuries can be common in the kitchen unless safety procedures are properly exercised. The type of machinery used and the high level of activity and pressure in restaurant kitchens during serving hours increase the risk of accidents.
Some common types of machinery used in kitchens are meat grinders, mixers, ice machines and dishwashing machines. Misuse or improper use of this machinery can result in cuts, limbs caught in moving parts and electric shock. To prevent these types of accidents from occurring, kitchen personnel should receive thorough training prior to using the equipment, and should follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe operation. Other measures to prevent injury are: ensuring equipment is turned off and unplugged before cleaning; wearing snug-fitting clothing with no loose jewellery that can fall off or be caught in the equipment while operating the machinery (long-haired employees should wear hair nets for the same reason); and regular servicing by authorized personnel. One must always avoid pushing food through equipment with one’s hands.
Meat slicers are commonly used in kitchens for slicing meats, fruits and vegetables, and are potentially the most dangerous of any kitchen equipment. Mechanical machine guards must always be in place when slicers are being used. Caution must always be used when cleaning the equipment, particularly when the blades are exposed. When workers finish using the slicer, it should be returned to the zero position and unplugged.
Knives can inflict severe wounds if they are improperly used or stored. Kitchen personnel frequently use knives to chop and dice vegetables and meat prior to cooking. Methods to prevent injuries include: using knives only for the purpose for which they were intended (e.g., not as can openers); ensuring that knives are sharp, since a dull knife requires more pressure and is more likely to slip; carrying knives by the handle, with the blade pointed down; and storing knives in their proper place immediately after cleaning.
Stoves and ovens
Skin burns are the main hazard experienced by kitchen personnel using stoves and ovens. Burns can range from a slight scald to a third-degree burn. Preventive measures include always using oven mitts when lifting pot lids, when transporting pots and when removing hot items from the oven. Oven areas must always be kept free of grease build-up to prevent slipping or accidental fires. If gas ovens are being used, the pilot light must be lit before lighting the oven.
Deep fat fryers are commonly used in kitchens for deep frying various meats and vegetables. The most common hazard associated with these units is skin burns from the splashing of hot grease. Measures that can be taken to ensure the safe use of deep fat fryers are: ensuring that the oil does not overheat and start a fire; cleaning away any grease on the floor around the fryer; preventing overflows by not overfilling the fryer with oil; and using extreme care when filtering or changing the fat in the fryer. Personal protective equipment such as gloves, aprons and long sleeved shirts should always be worn.
Microwave ovens are frequently used in kitchens in order to quickly heat or cook food. The hazards associated with improperly maintained microwave ovens are electrical shock or exposure to leaked microwave radiation. Depending on the amount of leaked radiation and the length of exposure, microwave radiation can damage sensitive human organs. The radiation can also damage medical equipment implanted in the human body, such as pacemakers. Microwave ovens must be kept free of food and grease spills around the doors and seals, since these residues may prevent the oven doors from closing properly and lead to leakage of microwaves. Notices should be posted near the ovens with full instructions on their safe use. All ovens should be checked regularly for proper performance and microwave leakage. They should be repaired or adjusted by trained service personnel.
Tableside cooking or serving of flaming foods can result in severe burn injuries to both the server and the customer if improper techniques are used. This type of service should be performed only by staff trained in tableside cooking and in the use of liquid or semi-solid fuel. A carbon dioxide fire extinguisher should be available in case of fire.
Walk-in refrigerators and freezers
Large walk-in refrigerators and freezers are commonly used in restaurant kitchens to store prepared food and ingredients. In addition to the temperature, the major hazard associated with walk-in refrigeration units is that kitchen personnel can be trapped in them if the door accidentally closes behind them. All walk-in cooling equipment must be equipped with interior door opening handles and with alarm switches, and all personnel who use these units should be familiar with the location of these devices.
Care should be taken when walking inside refrigeration units since condensation can cause the floors to become very slippery. To further prevent falling injuries, refrigerator floors should always be kept clear of food scraps and grease. At closing time, a check should always be made to ensure that no one has remained behind in the refrigerators.
In the restaurant kitchen almost all personnel are exposed to heat stress; however, the chef or cook is the most exposed since he or she works in close proximity to hot stoves and ovens. Dangerously high air temperatures near stoves and ovens, combined with the heavy uniforms many chefs are required to wear, can cause a number of heat-related health problems. For example, high blood pressure, skin disorders, headaches and fatigue have often been experienced by kitchen personnel. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can also occur. In extreme cases, fainting and loss of consciousness have been known to happen.
Methods to prevent heat stress include improving ventilation with oven hoods that draw away hot air, implementing work/rest schedules and drinking plenty of water while working. Kitchen personnel should also be educated in recognizing the symptoms of heat disorders.
Kitchen personnel are often exposed to temperature extremes when walking back and forth between walk-in refrigerators and hot kitchens. These sudden changes in temperature can result in respiratory problems. Some kitchen workers are required to work inside refrigerators for extended periods of time, unpacking produce, while arranging boxes of meats and cleaning the interior. These individuals should be given appropriate protective garments to wear while working in these areas.
Good ventilation systems are necessary to remove odour, grease and smoke from kitchen areas. Airborne grease can settle on kitchen equipment and cause it to become slippery. Ventilation systems include fans, air ducts and hoods. These systems should have filters removed and cleaned regularly.
Dishwashing machines can cause skin burns from handling hot dishes and can scald a worker who reaches into the machines before the dishwashing cycle is finished. Dishwashing machines should never be overloaded, since this could cause the machine to jam or to stop operating. Gloves should be used when removing hot dishes directly from the dishwasher.
In order to keep restaurant kitchens as clean and hygienic as possible, several types of cleaning products and agents are used. Ammonia solutions are often used to clean grease from oven ranges and can be particularly irritating to skin and eyes. Good ventilation should always be provided by fans or oven hoods when using ammonia products.
Other products used include drain cleaners, which are caustic and can cause skin burns and damage to eyes. To protect against splashing, rubber gloves or a face mask should be worn when using these cleaners. Soaps and detergents that are present in floor cleaning products may cause dermatitis or throat irritation, if soap dust is inhaled. Disposable respirators (face masks) may be needed by employees who are sensitive to this type of dust.
To further ensure that cleaning products do not pose a risk to employees, proper handling procedures should always be followed. Cleaning products should always be stored in clearly labelled containers, far away from where food containers are stored. Cleaning products should never be combined, particularly with chlorine bleach, which can cause a hazardous situation if mixed with other cleaning products. Material safety data sheets (MSDSs) are available in many countries for learning about the contents of cleaning products, their effects and how to handle them properly.
Trash compactors are used for compacting the large amounts of food waste generated in the kitchen into a much smaller volume. These machines should be designed not to operate with the lids open, in order to prevent catching hands or hair in them. The water supply should also be sufficient for the unit to operate safely and efficiently. Care should always be taken to ensure that glass, metal or plastics do not get into the compactor unit, since these materials will cause the machine to jam and lock out.
Pesticides are often used in restaurants to combat insects that are attracted by a food environment. Most pesticides used in restaurants and kitchens are of low hazard to humans. However, some individuals may be sensitive to such products and may develop skin irritation and other allergic reactions.
To prevent misuse of pesticides, training in the use of pesticides should be provided to janitors and other cleaning staff, and serious insect infestations should be treated by a licensed exterminator. Instructions should be printed on all pesticide containers and must be read prior to use, particularly to determine whether the pesticide can be used safely in food areas.
Food service personnel include dining room waiters, cocktail waiters, bartenders, hosts, banquet waiters and buspersons. These individuals are responsible for serving meals and beverages, showing guests to their tables and cleaning and maintaining the dining room
Slips and falls
Injuries can result from slips on wet floors or falling over boxes, carts or garbage containers left in the kitchen or dining room area. These injuries could include sprains, broken limbs, injured necks and backs and cuts from falling on sharp objects. To help prevent these accidents, employees should wear sturdy, low-heeled, rubber-soled shoes at all times. All water, grease or food spills should be wiped up immediately, and loose electrical cords and wiring should always be taped down to the floor.
All area rugs in the dining room should be of the non-slip type, with a rubber or other appropriate backing. Carpeting should be checked for frayed or raised edges that can cause food service personnel to trip and fall. Areas where the flooring changes from carpet to tile should always be clearly marked to alert food service personnel of the surface change.
The layout of the dining room is also important in preventing accidents. Tight corners, dim lighting and small exits to the kitchen can result in collisions between food service personnel. Wider corners and clearly marked, well lit exits will lead to safer traffic patterns.
Food service personnel can suffer skin burns through spilling of hot liquids such as coffee or soup, or from melted wax if tables are candle lit. To prevent spilling of hot liquids, waiters should never overreach when serving hot beverages at a table. When filling soup bowls, food service personnel should be careful to avoid splashes and try not to overfill the bowls.
When carrying hot coffee pots and urns to the dining room, servers should use a small towel to protect hands.
Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) and other musculoskeletal problems can be experienced by food service personnel who must routinely carry heavy trays, bend and reach to clear, wipe and set tables or carry boxes of restaurant supplies. Well designed workstations and work schedules, such as rotating tasks among food service personnel so that repetitiveness of tasks can be reduced, can diminish the risks.
Training in ergonomics (as well as training in identifying RSI risk factors) can also be helpful to all food service personnel in order to prevent strain injuries.
Many back and neck injuries occur because of improper lifting techniques. For many food service personnel, improper carrying of overloaded trays of dishes and glasses can cause strain on the back and increase the risk of dropping the tray and injuring someone. Training in proper loading and lifting of trays can reduce the risk of injury. For example, distributing the glasses and dishes evenly on the tray and placing one palm under the center of the tray while holding the front edge with the other hand will help create a safer dining room environment.
The restaurant dining room can be a very high stress environment because of the pressure of performing efficiently while working within tight schedules. Other causes of stress among food service personnel include working shifts, uncertain income because of dependence on gratuities and dealing with irate, difficult customers. Physical stressors such as noise and poor air quality can also be experienced in the restaurant environment. Some symptoms of stress can include headaches, racing heart, ulcers, irritability, insomnia and depression.
Methods to prevent or cope with stress include having workplace meetings that allow employees to share their views about improving work procedures, seminars on stress management techniques, improving air quality and reducing noise. These issues are discussed more fully elsewhere in this Encyclopaedia.
Bars and lounges
Bars or lounges can range in size from a small club or piano lounge to a vast dance/entertainment complex. Most of the hazards presented here are discussed in more detail elsewhere in this Encyclopaedia.
Broken glass is often a hazard in a bar environment because of the large amount of glassware used. Shards from broken glasses can accidentally be ingested by staff and customers. Glass fragments can cause cuts to fingers. There are several methods which can be used to minimize broken glass in the bar areas. Glasses should be inspected regularly for chips and cracks. Any damaged glasses should be discarded immediately. Picking up several glasses in one hand by placing fingers inside the glasses and bringing them together is hazardous since glasses carried in this manner may break.
A glass should never be used to scoop up the ice. A metal ice scoop should always be used when filling glasses with ice. If a glass does break in the ice area, the ice should be melted and all pieces of glass carefully removed. Broken glass should never be handled with bare hands.
Second-hand smoke. Bar personnel are exposed to heavy amounts of second-hand smoke due to the crowded conditions in many bars and lounges. These conditions can pose a risk since second-hand smoke has been linked to lung cancer and other respiratory problems. Every effort possible should be made to improve ventilation in bars and/or to set up non-smoking rooms in the bar areas.
Slips and falls. The rushed environment of a busy bar can contribute to slips and falls. Spilled drinks and leaking beverage containers can result in the area behind the bar being particularly hazardous for bartenders. Buspersons should regularly dry mop behind the bar throughout the evening. Outside the bar area, all spilled drinks should be cleaned up immediately. If the area is carpeted, there should be checks to ensure that there are no ragged edges where people could trip. All bar personnel should wear non-slip rubber-soled shoes.
If the bar has a dance floor, the floor should be made of wood or a material that allows gliding, but the floor should also be clearly distinct in colour from other walking surfaces.
Lifting. Bartenders are often required to lift heavy boxes or kegs of beer. Where possible, dollies should be used to transport kegs and boxes of beer. If proper lifting techniques are not used, back, neck and knee injuries can occur. All heavy lifting should be done using safe lifting techniques.
Bar waiters often carry heavy trays of drinks, which can put considerable stress on the back and neck. Proper tray carrying techniques should be shown to all bar waiters. Physical fitness is important for avoiding back injuries.
Noise. Excessive noise from live entertainment in bars and lounges can result in hearing damage among bar staff. Noise levels of 90 decibels (dB), which is the legal limit in some countries, like the United States, is a level that will lead to hearing loss in some individuals. Annual hearing testing (audiometric testing) is a requirement for all bar personnel exposed to 85 to 90 dB noise levels for 8 hours daily.
To prevent hearing damage among bar personnel, exposure to high noise levels should be limited to short periods of time, and attempts should be made to reduce the sound volume. If these methods are not feasible, then personal protective equipment such as ear plugs should be issued.
Compressed gases. Compressed gases are found in the bar areas where carbonated beverages are served. The canisters of gas must be kept in an upright position at all times or an explosion may occur.
All restaurant employees should be trained in the use of fire extinguishers and should know the location of all the fire alarms. An effective fire prevention programme includes training employees in spotting fire hazards and in proper procedures if a fire does occur. The telephone numbers of emergency-response personnel and instructions on how to summon them should be posted in a prominent area, and all employees should be familiar with an evacuation plan and escape routes. Kitchen personnel in particular should be trained in how to extinguish small fires that may occur in the kitchen.
Good housekeeping is key to fire prevention in restaurants. All areas of the restaurant should be checked for build-up of trash, grease and oil. Combustible materials such as aerosols and greasy rags should be kept in suitable covered containers and garbage cans when not in use. Ducts, filters and fans in the kitchen must be kept free of grease. This will also result in the equipment running more efficiently.
Fire exits from the restaurant must be clearly marked, and passageways to the exits must be free of boxes, trash and other debris. The use of fire detection devices and sprinkler systems should also be part of a good fire prevention programme.
Restaurant cashiers are generally responsible for operating the cash register, handling incoming cash, processing guest receipts and answering the phone. Restaurants can often be targets for hold-ups and robberies, resulting in injuries and even death for cashiers. Management should provide training to cashiers in proper cash-handling procedures and behaviour during a robbery. Other preventive measures are ensuring that the cashiers’ area is well lit and open, and furnishing the cashier area with alarms that can summon security during a robbery. The entire restaurant should be securable after closing, with all exits alarmed and labelled for emergency use only.
Cashiers in fast food restaurants and cafeterias in particular may develop repetitive motion injuries due to the design of the job and the high workload. Precautions include well-designed work stations with cash registers at comfortable heights. Flexible seats will allow cashiers to sit and relieve lower-back and leg pressures.