FRANCESCA ASKS: One of my finds sliced open his hand at work over the weekend. He said the guard on the slicer was half falling off. This made me think as I work in a restaurant kitchen which I know can be a bit dangerous sometimes; how can we make sure our workplace is safe?
Good on you Francesca. And you’re absolutely right, horrible injuries can and are sustained while working in kitchens. A good starting point would be to identify possible risks and then think of ways of minimizing or preventing them. So let’s think about some of the likely hazards where you work:
- It’s high pressure; people are expected to work quickly and move fast.
- The air temperature can be very hot.
- You’re working with sharp tools
- People are working on or near hot surfaces and sometimes open flames.
- Shifts can be long – very long.
- Spillages happen – floors can be slippery
- Equipment can be faulty and people can forget to report issues. I once worked in a kitchen where the thermostat on the deep fryer was broken. It didn’t turn off as it should and the oil kept getting hotter and hotter. As the dishwasher I was the last on duty when suddenly the oil burst into flames. Not my best night at work!
I came up with that list without even really having to think – which is a pretty good indicator of how important it is to keep safety at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
- Are slip mats provided? These should be on the kitchen floors and also on the floors of walk in fridges and freezers.
- Does everyone have access to drinking water during the shift. Do the fans and/or air-conditioning work? Can windows be opened to allow for ventilation?
- Are sharp knives stored correctly? Or do people throw discarded cutlery back into drawers or into the kitchen sink where they can be unwittingly grabbed?
- Do thermostats work? Are insulated handles undamaged? Are oven gloves provided?
- Are people allowed to take adequate meal and rest breaks away from noise and activity?
- Are spills wiped up quickly?
- Is equipment maintained? Are safety guards checked? Fire extinguishers? What about broken pots and pans? Imagine if someone tries to lift a pot of boiling water and the handle come off.
- Is there a well-stocked accessible first aid kit? Is there always someone on shift who knows First Aid?
Employers have a duty of care. They need to provide their staff with the safest possible workplace. But we workers should also take responsibility for our own well being – if you notice something is wrong, report it. Communication can literally save lives – not only in alerting the boss to a likely hazard but talking to your colleagues – letting them know you’re about to walk directly behind them with a hot pan, passing on that cooking oil has been spilled on the floor.
You get the picture.
The best thing anyone can do to make sure their workplace is a worker friendly as possible is to join a union. And remember, the more the merrier! The difference between a strongly unionized and nonunion workplace when it comes to safety and good conditions is like chalk and cheese. We can help you find out which is the union for you. give us a call on our toll free number 1300 486 466 or fill out this enquiry form: www.australianunions.org.au
One more thing, I think you’d make a fantastic health and safety rep – you’re already well on the way just through thinking about your workplace. Why not give it a go? You can mention it to your union when you join. There’s an old saying my grandma used to say: “Prevention is better than cure” You could quite literally help keep your colleagues safe from harm. How great would that be?