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Understanding Safety Hazards for Food Service Workers

On Behalf of | Apr 18, 2012 | Carpal Tunnel, Chicago, OSHA |

At one time in our working career, many of us have worked in the food service industry. It’s practically a rite of passage as a teenager’s first job, pays tuition for numerous college students, and serves as a full-time career for many adults. In fact, approximately 9.7 million people in the United States work in the dining and beverage service industry. Though there are many advantages to these jobs, there are multiple drawbacks as well. Long hours, sore feet, and demanding customers are just a few of the downsides of the industry. A greater concern, however, is the number of safety and health hazards faced by food service workers.

In 2010, the Department of Labor Statistics noted that an average of 3 of every 100 food service workers were injured or sickened on the job. This equates to thousands hurt at work per year, but this figure only includes full-time workers. In an industry where part-time work is prevalent, the actual number of workplace injuries is likely much higher. Additionally, over 100 food service workers are killed annually on the job. Safety organizations stress the importance of education to reduce injury for food service workers. It is vital that workers are aware of the risks most commonly present in their workplace.

Slips and Falls: Slips and falls are extremely common injuries in this industry. Food service usually requires fast-paced movement carrying heavy loads, which easily leads to collisions or tripping. Cooking oil residue and spilled foods or liquids are prevalent, causing hazardously slippery floors.

Burns and Scalds: From the kitchen to the dining room, workers are regularly exposed to hot cooking utensils and ovens, open flames, cooking oil, hot water and steam, as well as hot foods and liquids. As a result, food service workers are highly at risk for burn or scald injuries.

Workplace Violence: As with many industries, these workers are at risk of violence from both customers and coworkers. Dealing with the public increases the risk for encountering irate customers who threaten or use violence. The high availability of cash, especially for counter service restaurants, means that such workers are more at risk for robbery and assault.

Cuts and Punctures: Food service almost always means the presence and use of sharp knives, tools and appliances. Additionally, glass and dishware is frequently broken by workers and customers. As a result, food service workers are especially at risk for accidental cuts and punctures. These types of injuries are among the most prevalent and serious in the industry.

Sprains and Strains: Food service work is a fast-paced job, often requiring considerable time standing, walking, bending and lifting. Many of these workers end up with muscle and joint injuries. Servers and bussers, for instance, often must lift and carry very heavy loads of plates and drinks, leading to back and shoulder strains, knee injuries, and wrist injuries like sprains and carpal tunnel syndrome. Kitchen supplies are often bulk-sized, at times injuring workers who must lift or move them. Additionally, repetitive stress injuries from pivoting, reaching and/or fine hand movements are frequently a problem among food service workers.

From cashier to chef, waiter to busser, food service workers at all levels face multiple on-the-job risks. Through education and strict observance of safety procedures, however, their workplace can be a healthy one. Those who have been injured at work should also be aware that they may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Injured workers may contact a Chicago workers compensation attorney for more information.

About the Author: Brooke Haley is a Marketing Associate at Millon & Peskin, Chicago workers compensation lawyers that practice in the areas of Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury. Millon & Peskin is a General Civil Litigation Practice with the goal of representing the interests of injured workers, throughout all applicable Courts in the State of Illinois. For more information about Illinois workers compensation attorney,please visit

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