When you think about injuries in the restaurant industry, what comes to mind first? Burns? Cuts? In reality, the most common injuries in food service are musculoskeletal disorders including strains, sprains, and soreness, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. These injuries can affect workers in all parts of the restaurant, whether it is muscular strain from servers carrying heavy trays or repetitive motion injuries from chefs using dull knives.

Running a restaurant is a team effort and every worker has a role to play. Even though the hazards may be different for each role, the key concepts for injury prevention remain the same. Train employees to carry and work with items close to their body, provide them with the appropriate tools for the job, and are encourage them to alternate between tasks whenever possible.

Wait staff

Taking orders and delivering food to customers means that servers tend to get plenty of walking activity and move frequently. However, carrying heavy trays of food and drinks along with serving plates full of food can expose wait staff to awkward postures and injuries from lifting.

Encourage servers to:

  • Carry trays close to the body and use two hands whenever possible. Try not to overload the trays.
  • Avoid overreaching. Bring cups and glasses close closer to your body when refilling drinks and hand plates to customers to reduce reaches.
  • Alternate hands for carrying.

Kitchen staff

Working in the kitchen – either as a cook or food prep – means workers stand in one place for extended periods. This static posture for the lower body, along with repetitive motions of the upper body, can be a recipe for an injury.

How to help the kitchen staff:

  • Keep knives sharp. Dull knives increase the force required to cut.
  • Provide adjustable height workstations or lifts. Table height should be 2-3 inches below the worker’s elbow to improve posture and reduce injury.
  • Use anti-fatigue mats with drain holes to reduce slipping and reduce pressure on the feet and knees.
  • Store frequently used items close to the worker. Avoid storing items below knee level or above shoulder level.

Dishwashers and clean-up staff

Many of these same principles apply to the clean-up crew, such as keeping items close to the body and adjusting the height of the workstation. During the cleaning process, dishwashers and bussers may need to handle heavy racks of dishes and glasses, which can be difficult to handle. Ensure that you train workers in proper handling of these racks and if possible provide use of carts to help transport heavy items.

Other considerations:

  • Equip the dishwashing station with a height adjustable and retractable rinse nozzle.
  • Provide smaller bins for bussing to reduce the possibility of workers overloading the bins.
  • For heavy duty cleaning, choose tools with large handles and good grips.

While every kitchen is different, apply these main principles regardless of the type of establishment. For more specific and detailed recommendations, check out the Cal/OSHA Restaurant Safety Guide.