The potential risk of accidents at work is considerable, especially in a sector where contracts are often temporary and employees do not always have the right level of training and experience to cover certain seasonal jobs.
Both cooks and waiters are exposed to various physical hazards (falls, musculoskeletal disorders, cuts, burns), hazards arising from the use of chemical substances (detergents, disinfectants,…), biological risks (skin and respiratory allergies) and psychosocial risks as a result of the way the work is carried out (long hours, night work, psychological risks, pressures from customers).
Therefore, both collective and individual prevention measures are essential to enable a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of occupational accidents occurring in restaurants.
Classification of work-related risks in restaurant kitchens into two groups
On the one hand, in the kitchen, They happen during the whole process of food preparation and cleaning of dishes and utensils and those who are exposed are mainly the cooks and kitchen assistants.
On the other hand, those that occur during customer service in the restaurant area as such, those who are exposed are waiters, sommeliers and anyone who works in this area (counter, cashier, etc.)
For the purposes of this topic we will focus primarily on the kitchen.
The chefs face risks from food preparation processes (ovens, plates, sharp tools, contact with extreme hot and cold temperatures, cooking fumes, slippery floors …). The use of sharp objects, hot or frozen products, the use of chemicals for certain tasks such as washing dishes, contact with waste, among others, are other major sources of risk.
In addition, working conditions in the kitchen are conducive to falls: floors are often wet or slippery after cleaning up dirt from spilled liquid food, oil, etc.
Likewise, kitchen work is inevitably accompanied by a series of factors such as the production of water vapour, smoke generated by oil, heat release, etc., which are present during the performance of work and which hinder visibility and clarity when doing things.
Therefore, the main risks to be considered in the kitchen are:
• Falls that can lead to sprains, contusions and fractures
• Cutting with knives or other instruments/machinery
• Burns as a consequence of the use of hot products, heat sources (ovens, fryers..) , by steam or spraying.
• Musculoskeletal disorders as a result of work. Usually periarticular disorders that cause pain in the wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome), elbow (tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow), shoulder (extended arms, tendonitis) and chronic spinal injuries (neck pain, lower back pain).
• Risks derived from the manual handling of loads and movements: pots ,plates, pans, loading and unloading of ovens and dishwashers …
• Other risks derived from repetitive manipulations carried out at a constant rate in the preparation of dishes, forced postures (long standing and leaning forward with the arms frequently extended, bending, twisting …), risks derived from the constant use of vibrations generated by electromechanical tools such as beaters, etc… are sources of diseases of the locomotive system.
• Chemical risks derived from contact with cleaning and disinfection substances. These are often strong chemicals that can cause intoxication by inhalation or absorption as well as burns on skin and eyes, or allergic sensitization (eczema, asthma …) These irritative and/or allergic disorders reach the skin (dermatitis, eczema) and bronchial mucosa (asthma).
Cooking fumes and vapours emitted during food preparation are hot and often oily, with more or less intense odours, and can be not only unpleasant but also irritating to the respiratory tract. The gases, vapours and smoke produced by carbonizing animal fats on cooking appliances contain benzopyrene, which is classified as a probable carcinogen .
• Biological risks: Constant food handling can cause skin disorders: dermatitis irritation, dermatitis allergic contact with proteins of animal origin (meat, liver, fish, crustaceans or molluscs) and plants (vegetables, fruits, spices) or enzymes and food additives (amylase, benzoic acid).
A fairly common consequence among kitchen professionals is the appearance of warts on the palms of the hands and fingers, skin and nail fungus infections, mostly derived from contact with fruits, juices and their residues.
The frequency of secondary infections of skin wounds by pathogens present in waste, viscera, etc.. is also a frequent occupational risk, as well as transcutaneous contamination by direct contact of the ocular mucous membranes with certain substances accidentally.
• Fire risks due to the use of ovens, stoves with gas burners, presence of many flammable products (oil fryers …).
• Psychosocial risks: The mental workload (long and irregular hours, night work, weekends and holidays, requirements for speed and quality of service, constant memory pressure of orders due to peaks in activity, etc… can also be a source of psychosomatic illness.
Working under pressure during the preparation of meals and respecting meal times can lead to other problems such as conflicts with colleagues, conflicts over complaints from dissatisfied clients, etc… in short, a series of situations that can generate emotional consequences that are difficult to bear psychologically if they are maintained over a long period of time and that can lead to constant stress in the workplace resulting in psychological disorders, anxiety symptoms, symptoms of depression, etc… which in turn can lead to a dependence on alcohol or tranquillisers and somatic disorders (digestive, cardiovascular)…
In this case, seasonal workers, mostly students or employees with little or no work experience, are the most vulnerable.
Risk prevention measures in restaurants
A good risk prevention plan can avoid this long list of risks associated with kitchen work altogether. Such basic aspects as a correct revision of the kitchen installations (machinery, area extraction, non-slip floors, electrical installation, etc…) can prevent a good number of accidents that occur daily in many kitchens.
The use of protective measures (appropriate clothing, use of gloves for certain tasks, breathing masks, etc.) is essential to avoid the risks associated with contact with chemical and biological substances.
Training: Key to avoiding work hazards
Therefore, the multiplicity, frequency and severity of accidents that can occur in the kitchen of a restaurant or hotel establishment, require proper training of workers.
In this sense, it is important to make both employers and employees aware of the importance of knowing the risks that can occur and how to prevent them.
In a sector where workers are often seasonal or temporary and where there are significant work overloads and minimal information sessions on risks and how to prevent them, awareness of the importance of good training in ORP is fundamental to ensuring the health of employees.
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