Keeping young and new restaurant workers safe

Jul 04, 2014

Young restaurant workerRestaurants aim to provide service that looks effortlessly efficient, but work at both the front and back of house is intense, repetitive and full of potential hazards. That's why the Ministry of Labour's annual young and new worker blitz - taking place now - always focuses on restaurants and food services.

"The work is often very fast-paced for short bursts of time," says WSPS training specialist Scott Morrow, "and it's in these short bursts that injuries are most likely to happen. Everyone's busy, including managers and supervisors, so everybody has to know how to function safely when the crunch comes."

It all comes down to managing health and safety: policies, procedures, education, training, monitoring, and coaching. Here are some of Morrow's suggestions.

Train thoroughly and often

During orientation training, educate employees on policies and safety procedures, cleaning operations and inspection procedures.

Provide new and young workers with site- and hazard-specific training. Don't assume new workers with industry experience know how to perform specific tasks and operate equipment safely. Take them around and ask, "Is there anything here that you haven't done or used before?" Train them to clean and maintain equipment according to manufacturers' recommendations.

Supply hazard-specific first aid training. Kitchen injuries require an entirely different response than office injuries.

Reinforce training through observation, coaching, and pre-shift safety talks. Keep injury "hot zones" or risk areas top of mind. Reinforce policies and practices by posting them in conspicuous places.

Manage hazards

Slips, trips and falls comprise almost 20% of all lost-time injury claims. In restaurant and food service settings, excess moisture, grease and dirt are three primary contributors. These conditions are most often found at the entrance, on loading docks, and around ice machines, beverage stations and cooking stations.

Establish a protocol and team for immediately cleaning up and removing spills. Keep cleanup tools readily accessible. Make sure floor mats are properly placed and maintained. Nudge empty chairs back into place and encourage customers to keep belongings out of servers' way.

Many restaurants use hazardous chemicals for cleaning and stripping. When providing WHMIS training, take new employees to a work area and say, "These are the chemicals that we use here. Here is the MSDS. This is what we need to do in case of a spill. This is the PPE that you need to wear. This is where you'll find it." Then have workers demonstrate that they can put the PPE on properly, and observe them later to make sure they're using it. We take shortcuts when we're rushed.

Personal protective equipment (PPE): provide kitchen staff with oven mitts, aprons, and at least three types of gloves - dishwashing, cut-resistant and freezer. Ensure employees wear clothing that won’t catch fire or melt, and footwear with closed toes and slip-resistant soles.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs): there's enormous potential for lifting, bending, pulling, and pushing injuries. Supplies often come in bulk - 30-pound bags of onions and 50-pound buckets of salad dressing, and they all have to be hauled. Gripping is another hazard. Servers grip plates of food and kitchen staff grip knives for extended periods.

Encourage staff to take micro-breaks. "I've been chopping for 15 minutes. I'm just going to flex my hand a little bit, stand up, sit down, whatever the case is, just to allow those muscles to relax for a moment." Micro-breaks can improve productivity because workers feel better.

How we can help

Workplace Safety & Prevention Services offers strategic support, such as consulting and training on developing policies and programs and implementing health and safety management systems. We also offer specific resources targeted to the restaurant and food services industry. Samples appear below.

Certification Part Two training


  • Closing the Loop: Setting Up a Health & Safety System in your Small Business (Generic)
  • Cooking and Baking
  • New worker orientation guide: laying the foundation for a safety culture
  • Preparing Foods with Knives
  • Using and Cleaning a Deep Fryer
  • Using Kitchen Equipment Safely
  • Using Meat Band Saws
  • Using Microwave Ovens
  • Working in the Dishwasher Area
  • Working in the Pick-Up Area