Commercial kitchen workers, beware. To avoid getting hurt at work, read your manual, listen to your supervisor, and say no to unreasonable requests.
At 21, my first summer job was working as a prep order cook in a busy family restaurant. I had yet to learn the hazards of working around boiling water or hot oil, how to handle kitchen knives, or why I needed to wear an ugly hair net.
My boss was good about telling me how to do things safely. But, one day while I was slicing tomatoes, I was so busy talking with my co-workers that I cut my right index finger. I didn’t need stitches — just a big Band-Aid. However, the injury was a wake-up call: it only takes a split second of inattention to get hurt — badly — in a commercial kitchen.
In fact, WorkSafeBC occupational safety officer Laddie MacKinnon says cuts, burns, slips, and trips are all too common in a hectic kitchen environment, especially given the high number of young and inexperienced workers typically found in this trade.
“Many younger workers don’t know about the potential hazards in the kitchen,” MacKinnon says. “Some won’t ask if they don’t know, because they are so eager to please.”
KITCHEN WORKERS NEED MORE THAN FOODSAFE TRAINING
If you’re working in the commercial kitchen trade, MacKinnon explains, you might think your required FoodSafe training provides sufficient protection. In fact, FoodSafe is a provincially mandated program designed to protect the health and safety of consumers — hence the ugly hair nets, along with the heavy emphasis on hand-washing and proper food storage. Many FoodSafe precautions will protect kitchen workers, but they’re not designed to do so. And, they don’t extend to protecting kitchen workers from injury, MacKinnon points out.
Hair nets are one such example. During my kitchen stint, I wore one to ensure I didn’t contaminate my customers’ food, for example, but I also did so because my boss told me my long hair could easily be caught in a machine.
“Kitchen workers can find many hazards, depending on the size of the kitchen and their level of training,” MacKinnon says. He cites the need to properly lock out machines as another key source of worker injury. “Our main concern is that safety and health procedures are not being followed, even though big kitchens are often sophisticated and will have proper training and health guidelines in place.
“We also see a lot of overcrowding in kitchens that can be hazardous for cuts, slips, and trips. The main problem is moving back and forth, with workers not going through designated walkways. These injuries can be avoided with good housekeeping and proper training.”
Colleen and Steve Bednarick own Joey’s Only Seafood in Vernon. And when they’re teaching their staff about health and safety, they’re relying on 30 years’ experience in the restaurant business.
As employers, the Bednaricks believe in training all of their staff individually, and then reinforcing that training with regular routines. “Joey’s Seafood has health and safety training videos. So, we ensure our staff watch, then take the quiz at the end. Hand-washing is also vital, and every tap has hand-washing procedures in case staff forget,” Colleen Bednarick says.
“For health and safety reasons, we have morning, afternoon, and closing checklists to ensure the checking of food temperatures, fryer temperatures, refrigeration temperatures, the washing of floors to clean up grease spills, and the constant cleaning of the line when we’re done. The key is training, followed by setting good examples ourselves.”
ONGOING TRAINING AND SUPERVISION IS VITAL
If you haven’t had a lot of kitchen experience, you might also be unfamiliar with the hazards associated with industrial machines. In this case, WorkSafeBC manager of young and new workers Trudi Rondou spends a lot of time stressing the importance of lockout to workers under 25. “A worker can be cleaning a machine and think it’s okay to walk away and leave it for a few minutes. Meanwhile, another worker might pass by and plug the machine back in, so when the first worker comes back to finish cleaning the machine, it causes an accident.
“All kitchen machines need to be safely locked out so nobody hurts themselves.” Highly skilled workers can’t assume they know it all, either. Even experienced workers need ongoing training and supervision. “It’s important to stand up and ask for training before doing the next task. No paycheque is worth getting hurt,” Rondou says.
“Orientation and training is essential. It must be specific to the workplace and should be an ongoing process. Even an experienced worker will require new orientation if circumstances change or new hazards develop. For example, a new work process or new equipment might be introduced; or, a worker might be moved to a new location or assigned a different task.”
For John Carlo Felicella, department head of culinary arts at Vancouver Community College, young worker health and safety training is fundamental to creating competent future chefs.
“Every student goes through one week of health and safety training before they set foot in a kitchen,” he says. “They are faced with a daily minefield of dangers in a professional kitchen. But knowledge of safety always comes first. It keeps accidents to a minimum, and our record proves it. It’s been in the curriculum since the beginning.
“If you’re not willing to learn about your own health and safety, you shouldn’t be in our business.”
Perhaps Felicella has a point. I never worked long in that family restaurant, after turning down a chance to become a waitress. But I did learn about the importance of safety the hard way: well enough to appreciate the fact that I still have my 10 typing fingers to be able to share this information with you.
For more on this topic, check out:
- WorkSafeBC Kitchen Safety Resources
- WorkSafeBC Professional Cook Certification Information
- Six-minute safety talks for cooks
Another resource considered valuable to many kitchen workers is go2HR, the safety association and Certificate of Recognition (COR) certifying partner for B.C.’s tourism and hospitality industry (see www.go2hr.ca). go2HR provides a series of online tools on the site’s Industry Health and Safety section to protect restaurant and food industry workers from injury and illness.
By Christine Blanchette. Reprinted with the permission of WorkSafe Magazine, WorkSafeBC