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As more young workers enter professional kitchens this summer, it’s important to consider their aptitude for safety. Statistically, the young people who suffer the most work-related injuries are from the restaurant industry. And in the fast food segment, that number rises even higher.  

Why Do Teens Require Special Safety Training?

Bubbling oil.

It’s ethically imperative that restaurant managers prioritize their safety with complete training and supervision. Young workers require extra attention in this area because their prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain responsible for rational thinking and good decision making — is still a work in progress. This puts teenagers at a higher risk of injury, as does their general lack of experience due to being new in the workforce. 

Safety Guidelines

A restaurant worker trips on a floor mat.

The following information details important facets to cover during their onboarding, and throughout their tenure at your establishment. Some of this information may seem obvious to seasoned restaurant professionals. However, it helps to remember all of the simple mistakes made (and all of the hard lessons learned) at the start of their own careers.

Burns & Deep Fat Fryers

Young workers, with their natural curiosity and potentially less developed risk assessment skills, are particularly susceptible to burns. Open flames, hot grills, boiling liquids, and even seemingly innocuous steam inflict serious burns. And then there are the unique dangers posed by deep fat fryers.

Ensure young workers receive thorough training on the safe operation of fryers, including proper procedures, the importance of maintaining a clean fryer environment, and the correct response to a grease fire. Also include the more nuanced subjects, such as:

  • Maintaining safe oil temperatures to avoid searing splatter
  • Using appropriate utensils like long-handled slotted spoons as opposed to, say, forks
  • Reinforcing chemistry lessons. For instance, adding water to hot oil will cause a violent eruption.
  • Enforcing the use of heat-resistant gloves and oven mitts whenever handling hot items, as opposed to grabbing a nearby hand towel.

Managers have found success in demarcating areas around hot equipment and training young workers to identify these zones and avoid lingering unnecessarily.

Heat Stress & Exhaustion

Young workers, especially during their first few weeks, might underestimate the dangers of heat stress and dehydration. When the heat really turns up, encourage regular breaks in cooler areas and emphasize the importance of staying hydrated by providing easily accessible water fountains or refillable water bottles. Heatstroke and exhaustion can lead to dehydration, dizziness, and even fainting, potentially causing further injuries.

Electrical & Fire Hazards

Wires spark little flames.

Young workers may not recognize the more nuanced electrical hazards such as frayed cords, overloaded outlets, or using electrical equipment near water sources. Provide them with clear protocols for safe electrical cord management to prevent tripping hazards and accidental damage.

Fires are a nightmare scenario in any kitchen. To lessen the risk of fires occurring, stress to young workers that flammable liquids like cooking oil and cleaning chemicals should always be stored safely away from heat sources. Young workers may not be familiar with the dangers of using flammable materials near open flames or the importance of keeping grease filters on exhaust hoods clean.

Slips, Trips, & Falls

Wet floors, spilled grease, and uneven surfaces can all lead to slips, trips, and falls — a significant cause of professional kitchen injuries. Remind them to communicate clearly when moving around the kitchen, especially in busy periods, to avoid collisions.

Another tried-and-true technique is to use brightly colored floor signs to mark wet areas and caution zones as a constant visual reminder.

Strains & Sprains from Overexertion

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), such as strains and sprains, can develop from repetitive lifting, carrying, and awkward postures. For instance, lifting heavy pots, carrying large trays, and performing repetitive tasks can lead to injury. Train young workers on proper lifting techniques, emphasizing the importance of bending at the knees and using core muscles for support.

Also, encourage them to utilize lifting aids whenever possible and to seek out assistance when moving oversized or heavy objects. In general, it’s useful to rotate tasks. The more variety in movement, the fewer repetitive motions that lead to fatigue-related injuries.

Safe, Bustling Professional Kitchens

A wok on fire.

Taking extra time to train your youngest staff will pay off. This approach not only benefits your young employees, but also translates to a more stable workforce, reduced worker’s compensation claims, and ultimately, a stronger bottom line for your business.

We provided a general overview of safety hazards in professional kitchens. For further information and specific regulations, please consult the following resources:

These resources can assist you in ensuring that young workers entering the exciting world of professional kitchens do so with the knowledge and tools they need to stay safe.

Next Up: How to Manage Sick Foodservice Employees


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