Over 12,000 burn injuries are suffered each year in restaurant kitchens in the United States, more than any other job sector. It’s not just the cook who gets burned. On the list are also wait staff, kitchen workers and food handlers.
Not surprisingly, one of the groups that had the highest number of injuries were teenagers working in fast food establishments. They are new to the working world, under pressure to keep up with the busy pace and inexperienced around fryers, ovens and other hot equipment.
What Causes the Injuries?
Deep fryers. French fries, the staple of any self-respecting hamburger joint, are cooked in deep fryers that reach temperatures ranging from 300 to 500 degrees. Deep fryers are first on the list of causes of burn injuries in food establishments.
Hot liquids and steam. The steam can come from steamers and even steam tables. Workers have been injured from the steam coming out of automatic dishwashers.
Hot plates. It is very easy for a harried server to get burned from picking up a plate that has been sitting under a heat lamp. He can also get painful injuries simply carrying hot plates with unprotected hands.
Hazardous chemicals. Chemical burns are painful and dangerous. They come from cleaning solutions that contain harsh ingredients, used by untrained, inexperienced or inattentive workers.
What Employers Can Do
Every restaurant, whatever its size, should have a health and safety plan in place. Health and safety consultants can provide on-site guidance for developing a workable one that protects both the employer and the employee.
Then make this program part of everyday kitchen procedures. It should cover how to handle equipment, how to treat minor burns, when to go to the hospital, keeping the area tidy, cleaning up spills on the floor and precautions.
Make it mandatory that all workers go through first aid training. This gives them information they need in an emergency. It also helps them decide if a burn is serious enough to go to the hospital for treatment.
Make sure every worker gets trained on new equipment. New employees need to get proper instruction on how to operate every tool, appliance and device in the kitchen that is part of his new job. Equipment gets more and more high tech every year, requiring specialized training so it is used safety and effectively.
Buy all the recommended protective clothing and keep it in easy reach of kitchen workers and servers. This includes everything from the proper clothing to oven mitts and cleaning gloves for the hands.
What Kitchen Workers Can Do
For kitchen workers, the Burn Foundation offers these tips to prevent burn injuries:
- Wear the protective clothing that is available. Use oven mitts when picking up hot utensils and plates. Don’t be in such a hurry that you forget to use them.
- Wear shoes that have non-skid soles. The floors of even the cleanest kitchen can get grease or liquids spilled on it, making them slippery hazards.
- If oil or grease catches fire, put the lid on the pot. Never attempt to move it while it is smoking or on fire.
- Don’t reach over hot stoves or areas with steam coming out.
- Follow all directions for safe handling of electrical equipment. It’s easy to get wet hands in a restaurant kitchen. Take the time to dry them completely before touching cords or outlets.
- Don’t wear clothes that are so loose that they can catch on handles and cause a spill.
- Keep everything flammable out of the cooking space. This can include towels, paper items and aerosol cans.
Preventing accidents that result in burns requires a good safety plan, educated workers and an atmosphere that rewards safety.
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