Kitchen workers such as chefs, cooks and kitchen hands perform manual tasks covering a wide range of activities, some of which can be hazardous.

Hazardous manual tasks can represent a risk to the health and safety of workers, with approximately half of the serious injuries to kitchen workers arising from muscular stress and repetitive movement.

Injuries

Repetitive manual tasks can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs include injuries such as sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints.

MSDs most commonly occur from gradual wear and tear to the body. The parts of the body most commonly affected by working in kitchens include the shoulder, back and wrist.

Reducing the risk of injury

Workplace walk-throughs or inspections to identify hazards and consultation with your workers can be the most achievable way to reduce the risk injury from hazardous manual tasks. All risk factors are subject to variations of roles and tasks.

Examples of the most common risk factors encountered are:

  • handling heavy loads
  • repetitive movements
  • awkward postures.

Source of the risks

The risks for hazardous manual tasks in kitchens come from a range of sources including:

  • design and layout of work areas (eg restricted spaces, heavy items stored on high or low shelves)
  • the nature of the item, equipment or tool (eg trolleys that are not appropriate for the task or are poorly maintained making them difficult to push/pull)
  • the nature of the load (including heavy pots, bulky or awkward dry goods)
  • the working environment (eg high temperatures and humidity)
  • systems of work, work organisation and work practices (eg repetitive tasks, inadequate breaks or task variety, unreasonable timeframes/workload).

Minimising the risk

Once hazardous manual tasks have been identified and assessed, determine what controls you need to implement to minimise the risk of injury. This may involve a single control measure or a combination of two or more different controls.

Eliminating the risk is the most effective control measure. If eliminating is not practical, minimising the risk so far as is reasonably practicable would be the next step.

Many manual tasks can be redesigned, modified, altered or substituted to minimise the risk of the hazards.

Controls that achieve this include:

  • changing the design or layout of work areas
    • reorganise the layout of the kitchen to avoid unnecessary stretching and/or lifting
    • use a dishwashing machine/pot and pan washer
  • improving workplace conditions
    • replace or repair uneven or slippery floors
    • provide trolley ramps at changes in floor level
    • ensure all catering equipment is well maintained
    • ensure shelving is not overloaded
    • install automatic doors if workers need to carry things through them frequently
  • using mechanical aids
    • use four-wheeled trolleys (with adjustable height or lockable castors, if needed)
    • use large mixer bowls on wheeled dollies
    • use sack trucks
    • provide false bottoms in deep sinks to reduce awkward bending at the waist
    • use spring-loaded heated plate dispenser
  • redesigning individual tasks
    • reduce the amount of twisting, bending, stooping, stretching, pushing and pulling
    • reduce the number of times it is necessary to do the task (without increasing the load each time)
    • store heavy items on shelves at waist height
    • use teamwork for tasks such as moving a heavy pot
  • making loads easier to handle
    • negotiate for goods supplied in large, awkward or heavy containers/bag/boxes to be provided in smaller sizes or weights or in more appropriate containers when moving and storing on shelves (eg replacing sacks with boxes/containers with built in handles or grips)
    • use smaller containers for cleaning chemicals and/or appropriate siphons or pumps to avoid handling bulk containers
    • put heavy equipment on (lockable) castors to make cleaning routines easier
  • wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)
    • provide and ensure workers wear fitted gloves that suit the task, aprons, and uniforms with long close-fitting sleeves, eye protection, non-slip shoes, hairnets or hats as appropriate.

Training and instruction

Train, inform and supervise all workers on important points such as:

  • the risks associated with manual tasks and repetitive movements involving twisting and stretching, how injuries can occur, and controls in place to minimise risks
  • correct use of any lifting aids or other equipment
  • safe lifting and handling techniques
  • reporting procedures and early detection of symptoms
  • reporting faults or failures in equipment, mechanical aids and PPE.

Remember to check that workers whose first language is not English have understood the training and information. This may require you to use signs, other visual information or a translator.

You also need to consider individual workers’ physical characteristics that may increase the risk, such as:

  • skills and experience (they may be inexperienced or unaccustomed to the job)
  • physical capacity (they may be younger, older, pregnant or have existing health issues).

Thermal comfort

Heat and humidity

High temperatures and humidity can affect the health and comfort of kitchen workers and contribute to heat stress.

Reduce the risks by:

  • providing good ventilation systems and maintaining air quality through regular cleaning and maintenance of cooker hoods and fume extraction/ventilation systems
  • installing air conditioning, or using fans to increase airflow
  • educating workers on the symptoms of heat stress
  • providing cool water for workers and instructing them to drink small amounts frequently during and after work
  • providing rest breaks in a cool place
  • ensuring clothing and footwear is suitable for working in a kitchen environment (eg slip-resistant footwear and clothing that is not restrictive).

Cold

Kitchen workers may be exposed to cold if they store or retrieve food supplies from large walk-in freezers. Cold temperatures can increase the risk of muscle strain and loss of manual dexterity.

Reduce the risks with:

  • protective clothing, such as thermal gloves and jackets where appropriate
  • sufficient and suitable breaks to regain warmth.

More information on thermal comfort and heat stress is available in the Managing the work environment and facilities – Code of Practice.

Task specific risk controls

Food preparation

Common tasks include:

  • cooking
  • baking
  • cutting and chopping ingredients
  • stirring
  • lifting and carrying large, heavy pots.

Common risks include:

  • repetitive motion of the hands, arms, wrists and shoulders when stirring or chopping
  • forceful lifting or carrying of heavy bowls or pots
  • awkward reaching, bending and twisting of the back
  • awkward forward bending of the back when stirring and reaching, and tipping soup kettles
  • awkward and static postures.

Effective risk controls include:

  • keeping knives sharp and in good condition
  • using chopping machines for vegetables to reduce manual chopping
  • having workbenches of different heights
  • using large soup kettles with extended handles to make it easier to tip the kettle when pouring liquid into smaller containers.

Safer work practices include:

  • using sharp knives
    • dull blades cause more incidents because they are harder to work, require more pressure, and slip more easily
  • choosing the correct sized knife with the most appropriate blade for the job
  • working at the correct bench height for the task. If a bench is too high, use a stable platform placed placed on the floor in a position/area where it is not a trip hazard
  • having two people move heavy soup kettles/pots.

Food mixers

Common risks associated with large food mixers and mixing bowls include:

  • entanglement
  • awkward bending and twisting of the back
  • forceful lifting and carrying of heavy mixing bowls.

Effective risk controls include:

  • ensuring that large mixers are placed at a height that allows access to the mixing bowl handles between mid-thigh and waist height to reduce bending at the waist
  • ensuring that, if a mixer is on a raised platform, the platform is fixed firmly to the floor and can handle the weight of the mixer
  • providing dollies designed for mixing bowls for transporting to other areas of the kitchen
    • the dollies should have handles for pushing and be high enough so that workers do not have to bend excessively to reach the bowl
  • encouraging two workers to lift and lower the mixing bowl together.

Safer work practices include:

  • using dollies to move heavy bowls around the kitchen
  • lifting or lower mixing bowls using two workers, one on each side holding the handles.

Ovens and steamers

Common risks associated with the use of ovens and steamers arise from the height of the equipment and shelves, and include:

  • awkward bending and twisting of the back
  • awkward reaching
  • forceful lifting and carrying of hot items.

Effective risk controls include:

  • providing ovens with side-hinged doors rather than bottom-hinged doors, to allow easier oven access
  • ensuring oven racks are between mid-thigh to below shoulder height, to minimise awkward posture.

Safer work practices include:

  • using oven mitts when handling food and food containers in ovens
  • having two people lift heavy trays of food into or from ovens
  • using correct posture while lifting oven trays, avoiding twisting and bending.

Pot and pan washing

Common risks associated with manual pot and pan washing in large, deep sinks include:

  • heavy lifting
  • awkward bending and twisting when leaning over sinks for long periods
  • repetitive wrist and shoulder movements, and forceful arm exertions, when scrubbing
  • repetitive reaching into pots
  • contact stress on hips when leaning into sinks.

Effective risk controls may include provision of:

  • automatic pot-washing dishwashers
  • false bottoms in deep sinks to reduce the need to bend awkwardly at the waist
  • water jet sprays for the removal of baked-on food, avoiding the need to hold pots under running water
  • a range of cleaning brushes suited to particular tasks
  • appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as non-slip shoes, and properly fitted, insulated gloves with extra-long cuffs and extra grip on palms and fingertips to reduce the gripping force needed to handle greasy dishes
  • non-slip fatigue mats for workers who are stationary or stand for long periods of time.

Safer work practices include:

  • using mechanical aids, tools or equipment provided
  • using arms for support, including resting free arm on the pot surface to reduce the gripping force needed to hold it securely
  • placing your free hand on the side of a soup kettle to support the upper body and reduce lower back stress
  • moving large diameter pots as close as possible to the front of the sink and rotate them during washing to reduce reaching across the pot
  • using long-handled cleaning brushes to prevent awkward reaching into soup kettles or pots
  • removing baked-on food stuck to pots with strong-bristled brushes to reduce the amount of force required
  • wearing PPE (eg non-slip shoes, gloves) to protect your skin from hot water
  • keeping floors dry and clean – attend to spills immediately.

Dishwashing

Common tasks include:

  • removing dishes from meal trolleys
  • scraping and rinsing dishes
  • sorting dishes
  • loading dishwashing machines.

Common risks include:

  • repeated lifting and handling of full dish racks or heavy dish trays and cutlery buckets
  • repetitive twisting and bending of workers’ backs standing at or leaning over sinks
  • awkward reaching across sinks or work surfaces
  • grasping dishes by fingertips (pinch grips).

Effective risk controls include provision of:

  • rollers/conveyors and trolleys for moving large quantities of dishes
  • dishwashing machines (rather than sink washing)
  • cleaning tools with good grips for when heavy duty cleaning is required.

Safer work practices include:

  • pushing trays along counters towards the dishwasher rather than lifting
  • using rollers/conveyors (if provided) to push dish racks towards dishwashing machines
  • spreading the load of dish racks by using more than one rack to avoid overloading
  • gripping trays at the midpoint rather than the front edge and carrying them as close to the body as possible (be mindful of hot surfaces)
  • using mechanical aids, tools or equipment provided (eg trolleys, cleaning tools, fatigue mats)
  • wearing the PPE provided (eg non-slip shoes, gloves when washing dishes)
  • keeping floors dry and clean – attend to spills immediately.

Cleaning and waste removal

Common risks include:

  • skin conditions
  • forceful exertion
  • awkward shoulder or back postures
  • cuts, bruises and pressure injuries.

Effective risk controls include providing:

  • long-handled brushes where reaching is required
  • cleaning tools that have soft rubber-like handles to reduce gripping force
  • platforms of adequate size to minimise excessive reaching
  • liquid waste disposal systems that enable separation of liquid from solid waste, thus reducing the weight of garbage bags
  • signs near bins to remind people not to overfill them.

Safer work practices include using:

  • brushes, cleaning tools, mechanicals aids and equipment
  • a platform to minimise excessive reaching when cleaning items that are higher than shoulder level
    • keep both feet on the platform at all times
  • a low stool or kneeling on a padded surface when cleaning items low to the ground
    • place one knee on the padded surface and use the opposite hand for support to reduce the amount of weight on the knees
  • power washers
  • smaller bags or bins to reduce the weight
  • mount waste bins on wheels for easy movement.

Storage

Common risks include:

  • heavy lifting
  • repetitive and awkward reaching or bending to either higher or lower shelves
  • awkward postures due to congested storage areas.

Effective risk controls include:

  • using lifting aids such as trolleys or carts to move dishes or foods into storage areas
  • arranging storage areas so that heavy items are easier to deal with (eg not up too high or down too low)
  • providing storage areas as close as possible to working areas to reduce carrying distances
  • keeping food localised (eg installing chilled storage under working surfaces)
  • purchasing bulk goods in smaller, easier to handle containers
  • adjusting the height and situation of shelving or racks
  • ensuring storage areas are not overloaded and have sufficient access/egress.

Safer work practices include:

  • labelling areas to make it easy to locate items
  • storing frequently used, heavier items within easy reach (between mid-thigh and elbow height), and lighter items between elbow and shoulder height
  • storing infrequently used heavy items on lower shelves and lighter items on higher shelves
  • keeping storage areas clear and free from obstructions
  • setting up storage areas with enough space to use mechanical aids, if needed
  • using adjustable height handling aids during shelf stacking and stocktaking.
Page last updated 16 April 2020