Top Tips for Health and Safety in Restaurants

Health and safety are buzzwords in the restaurant industry and most tips are common sense; however, appropriate measures can reduce workplace accidents that can be costly to both restaurateur and employee. The Health and Safety Executive has numerous documented cases of restaurant accidents that could have been preventable from an employee slipping on water from a leaking ice machine and flash frying her arm to a fractured skull from a slip to contamination issues. Since slips, trips, and falls are the most common workplace accident, find out how to keep everyone safe in your restaurant by reducing these types of accidents.

Consider the Size of Your Space

When you have multiple staff in a confined space, you increase the risk of accidents. Of course, you cannot always expand your kitchen or move sites, but it’s important to train your staff on effective communication within a space, especially if you have multiple chefs, KPs and trainees crammed in one room. For example, Chef Joe may be sauteeing at the cooking station, and then he wants to move to the plating/finishing station, but as he’s passing the prep/chopping station, Chef Sue doesn’t announce she’s stepping back and the two collide, causing chaos – knives flying, hot food, oil, and a pan in the air, ready to crash down. A cramped space – and lack of communication about how to move in that space – can cause undue and unforeseen accidents.

Announce Your Whereabouts

Point one leads into point two, train all restaurant staff to announce their whereabouts, especially when they are crossing someone’s path. This tip works for both small restaurant kitchens, and big sweeping, spacious kitchens too (for those lucky enough to work in such a place). Just as seasoned chefs know they need ergonomic movement – i.e. only newbie chefs are seen flailing around the kitchen without moving deliberately – it’s important to let others know when you’re moving away from your designated station. Be aware of surroundings and let other chefs know if you’re walking around the corner by yelling “corner” – behind someone “behind” or “hot behind” when moving with something hot. When carrying hot items add “hot” and sharp items “sharp.” Breaking these rules is dangerous because other people’s movements cannot be predicted, and if you’re coming round the corner with a sharp knife, and you haven’t announced it, and another chef is turning that same corner, it could spell accident.

Create Work Zones that Work

Create work zones in your kitchen to maximize safety and avoid collision, tension and chaos. You’ll need separate zones for:

  • Cleaning
  • Cutting and prep work
  • Baking
  • Frying
  • Cooking
  • Serving and Plating

Each staff member should work within their designated zone, so there will be a chef designated to the wash and prep zone, whilst another works at the fryer, and so on – or however your head chef devises the safest plan. 

Understand Food Safety

One of the biggest concerns is cross contamination, when harmful germs are spread between food, surfaces, and equipment. All restaurant staff should understand basic food safety to avoid making themselves or their customers sick. No one wants a salmonella complaint to lower high restaurant reviews. You’ll clear your dining area before you can blink!

Every restaurant kitchen should know to keep raw meats and poultry separate from fresh produce, use different chopping boards, and to disinfect and wipe down all surfaces when handling raw foods. All equipment should be washed in hot, soapy water before using it again. All kitchen staff should wash their hands routinely. Most chefs who use prep gloves may not keep these safe practices in mind when they do not feel contaminants on their hands, so change gloves routinely, or work with your hand

Remove clutter from food surfaces in the prep area to keep everyone safe. Make sure all sharp knives are sharp because a sharp knife is safer and doesn’t slip.

Anyone working with food will want to take or understand basic food safety:

  • Use separate chopping boards for raw meat and fresh veg to avoid cross contamination.
  • Avoid the food danger zone (4-60℃) when cooking, storing, keeping food on warmers or ice to limit risk of foodborne illness – bacteria multiply when kept between these temperatures for prolonged periods of time.
  • Cook foods to 75℃ or above – you can cook it to a lower temperature if food is held at temperature for a suitable period of time (like steaks and fish).
  • Cool foods to below 5℃.
  • Store food in airtight containers that are clearly labeled and dated.
  • Keep hot holding foods above 63℃ if not eaten within a couple of hours.
  • All reheated food should be raised to 82℃ – time and temperature combinations ensure food has been safely reheated.
Ensure All Staff Members Wear Safe, Comfortable Clothing and Shoes

Chefs and kitchen staff sometimes have a uniform, or chefs like to wear their chef whites and checkered pants, but to ensure safety make sure your chefs are provided with (or purchase) cotton chef jackets with knotted and not plastic buttons. These types of chef jackets protect the wearer from the heat of the kitchen – from burns over open gas flame and splashes from boiling water – as well as melting buttons or buttons catching fire. Natural fabrics are more breathable – and a proper chef jacket can be reversed or easily removed. Each chef should have a spare in the back to change into if hot oils have spilled onto their coats or if a guest asks to compliment the chef, so they are presentable. The right breathable clothing can ensure safety and cleanliness in the kitchen.

Chefs also need to be provided with quality ISO tested slip-resistant footwear (which tests slip resistance on steel and ceramic tile coated with glycerine), combined with slip-resistant mats, and slip-resistant floors. Since slips, trips, and falls are the most common accident, slip-resistant footwear ensures maximum safety for your staff. Many styles are both more comfortable (with cushioning, water resistance, waterproofing, breathability, ventilation, clog resistance, special soles, extra light, etc) and cheaper than traditional high-street trainers. None of your kitchen staff should be wearing trainers (sneakers) in the kitchen because they are simply not safe and protective enough for purpose.

Keep these five tips in mind when ensuring that your restaurant kitchen is safe from slips, trips, and falls. In 2015-2016 alone, it was estimated that 4.5 million workdays were lost due to workplace accidents and injury, and some companies have been slapped with hefty fines for failing to protect workers from injury (like this company that was fined £400,000). It’s much easier and cheaper to to put these measures in place – slip-resistant mats, shoes, better kitchen design, etc. – than to face the legal consequences of an inadequate health and safety plan.