Common restaurant hazards

Injured finger

Restaurants can be wonderful places to work, but all workers should be aware that there are hazards. Restaurant work involves hazardous tools and is often conducted in close quarters under time pressure. That's a recipe for accidents unless all workers know how to do their jobs safely.

There are four main types of hazards:

  1. Injuries from objects
  2. Slips, trips, and falls
  3. Burns and scalds
  4. Overexertion injuries

Injuries from objects

Typical injuries from objects include cuts from knives, injuries from kitchen machinery, and also injuries from running into things.

Knife safety

Accidents with knives account for many restaurant injuries. Here are do's and don'ts that will help you to avoid cuts and amputations from knives.


  • Use the right knife for the job
  • Use a proper chopping board or block
  • Make sure the knife is sharp
  • Carry only one knife at a time with the tip pointed down at your side
  • Store knives securely in proper racks
  • Hold the knife with your stronger hand
  • Cut away from your body when cutting, trimming, or boning
  • When not using knives, place them at the back, with the sharp edge away from you
  • After using a knife, clean it immediately, or place it in a dishwasher
  • Use protective clothing such as mesh or cut-resistant gloves

Do not:

  • Put a knife in a sink full of sudsy water, you won't see it
  • Use a knife as a can opener
  • Try to catch a falling knife, let it fall
  • Engage in horseplay with a knife in your hand
  • Carry knives while carrying other objects
  • Carry a knife in your pocket
  • Leave knives where they could be accidentally covered.
  • Talk to your co-workers while you are using a knife, you could become distracted

Kitchen machine safety

Kitchen machines, although quite safe when used properly, cause many of the most serious and frequent accidents in restaurants. One hasty shortcut can mean the loss of a finger or a hand. New employees are especially prone to accidents and should be trained carefully before using kitchen machines. Here are specific tips for using common kitchen machines.

Cutters and choppers

  • Guards must always be in place. Never operate with blades exposed.
  • Every day, test the safety interlock switch that turns the power off when the cover is raised
  • Use only plastic spatulas to feed or remove food from the cutter
  • Never attempt to clean the machine unless the power switch is off and the cord is removed from the outlet (machines have an uncanny way of turning on "accidentally" while being cleaned)


  • Use the food conveyor attachment and keep your hands away from the blade at all times, especially when catching products being sliced. Do not hand-feed.
  • For cleaning, disconnect the power, set the slicing dial to zero, and then remove the guard. Use a spoon with a cloth wrapped around one end to clean the blade, working from the center to the outside. Ideally, wear metal mesh or cut-resistant gloves when cleaning the blade; if these aren't available, cover the blade edge with a thick cloth while you rotate it, to protect your bare hand.


  • Never remove or modify the guards, or use your hands to feed the grinder
  • Use only the specially designed metal or plastic feeder to prevent damaging the feed screw
  • Before attempting to clean or adjust anything on the equipment, turn off the power switch and disconnect the power cord


  • Since most mixer blades cannot be completely guarded, avoid loose-fitting clothing or anything that could become caught in the agitator
  • Never try to wipe the sides of the bowl, adjust the machine, or remove the bowl while the machine is operating
  • When cleaning, turn off the power and disconnect the cord to prevent accidental operation

Band saws

  • Cutting frozen meat with a band saw can be extremely dangerous
  • Guards should be adjusted to expose only as much blade as is absolutely necessary
  • Never take your eyes off the blade when cutting, and remember that the blade may "coast" after the power is shut off
  • Disconnect the power when guards are removed for cleaning

Sharp surfaces

Knives and other kitchen equipment cause the most cutting injuries by far, but they are not the only source of cuts. Workers may also be exposed to sharp edges from:

  • Furniture
  • Counters
  • Glassware
  • Dishes
  • Cleaning equipment

Other encounters with objects

Sharp objects and kitchen machines aren't the only objects that can cause injuries. You may also be struck by co-workers moving heavy items, swinging doors, open cabinet or dishwasher doors, and so on. The way to avoid these is to keep your eyes open, think before you act, and be sure that no matter how busy the restaurant is, you and your co-workers don't get frantic, that's a sure invitation to accidents.

Slips, trips, and falls

Slips, trips, and falls are very common restaurant accidents, and it is easy to see why:

  • Slippery floors and stairs
  • Cluttered kitchen and storage areas
  • Loose or bumpy carpets and floor mats
  • Defective ladders and footstools
  • Poor visibility
  • Rushing during busy times

Here are some do's and don'ts to help you avoid slips, trips, and falls:


  • Keep floors and stairs clean, dry, and non-slippery
  • Keep floors and stairs clear of debris and obstructions
  • Make sure floors are free from trip hazards such as raised or broken sections
  • Mop floors with the recommended amount of cleaning product in the water, or cleaning fluid to ensure grease and other slippery substances are removed
  • Use slip-resistant waxes to polish and treat floors
  • Make sure that carpeting, rugs, and mats are free of holes, loose threads, loose edges, and bumps that may cause tripping
  • Use adequate warning signs for wet floors and other hazards
  • Ensure there is adequate lighting everywhere
  • Make sure that ladders and footstools are in good repair and have non-skid feet
  • If you drop or spill something, clean it up. If you notice a hazard, immediately remove it or clean it up, if possible. If it's not possible to take care of the hazard yourself, report it immediately to your supervisor.
  • Walk, don't run
  • Mark swinging doors with in and out signs, or define standard movement patterns or signals to avoid collisions

Do not:

  • Leave carts, boxes, trash cans, or other objects on the floors and in the aisles
  • Use defective ladders or footstools
  • Use chairs, stools, or boxes as substitutes for ladders
  • Leave oven, dishwasher, or cupboard doors open. These may present a tripping hazard for you or your co-workers.

Ladders and Stepstools

Ladders and stools are accidents waiting to happen if you do not use them carefully. Here are some tips:


  • Inspect a ladder before and after each use
  • Have defective ladders repaired or thrown out
  • Set up barricades and warning signs when using a ladder in a doorway or passageway
  • Clean muddy or slippery footwear before mounting a ladder
  • Face the ladder when going up or down and when working from it
  • Keep the center of your body within the side rails
  • Locate the ladder on a firm footing using slip-resistant feet or secure blocking, or have someone hold the ladder
  • Use a three-point stance, keeping both feet and at least one hand on the ladder at all times

Do not:

  • Work from the top two rungs. The higher you go on a ladder, the greater the possibility that the ladder will slip out at the base.
  • Use makeshift items such as a chair, barrel, milk crate, or box as a substitute for a ladder



  • Ensure that stairways are well lit
  • Keep stairs clear of obstructions
  • Use handrails
  • When carrying a load up and down stairs, make sure that the load does not block your vision
  • Report tripping hazards to your supervisor and place warning signs

Proper footwear helps reduce slips, trips, and falls

One often overlooked factor in preventing slips trips, and falls is footwear. Here are some tips that will help prevent accidents;

  • Wear slip-resistant shoes with a well-defined tread
  • Don't wear shoes that are dirty or worn out, as this affects their slip-resistance
  • Wear shoes with low or no heels
  • Wear shoes or boots with internal steel-toe caps if you lift and carry heavy objects
  • Wear footwear that is closed at the toe without a pattern of holes
  • Avoid porous fabrics such as canvas, which won't protect your feet from spills and burns

Burns and scalds

Another hazard found in virtually every restaurant is burns and scalds. Contact with boiling hot liquid fat, grease, or oil, and hot food products like soup, tea, and sauces, account for most burn and scald injuries. Other sources are:

  • Stoves
  • Toasters and toaster ovens
  • Ovens
  • Hot utensils
  • Pressure cookers
  • Cooking pots
  • Hot dishwashers

Tips for avoiding burn and scald injuries:


  • Assume that all pots and pans and metal handles are hot. Touch them only when you are sure that they are not hot or when you are using proper gloves.
  • Organize your work area to prevent contact with hot objects and flames
  • Keep pot handles away from hot burners
  • Make sure that handles of pots and pans do not stick out from the counter or cooking stove
  • Use oven mitts appropriate for handling hot objects. Use long gloves for deep ovens.
  • Use only recommended temperature settings for each type of cooking
  • Follow the manufacturer's operating instructions
  • Open hot water and hot liquid faucets slowly to avoid splashes
  • Lift lids by opening away from you so you won't get burned by escaping steam
  • Wear long-sleeved cotton shirts and cotton pants
  • Wear shoes that will repel spilled hot foods and oils

Do not:

  • Bend over a stove, grill, or other hot area in order to reach an uncomfortable distance, you could burn yourself, or your clothing could catch fire.
  • Spill water in hot oil
  • Leave metal spoons in pots and pans while cooking
  • Lean over pots of boiling liquids
  • Overfill pots and pans
  • Leave an electric element or gas flame of a stove "on" all the time
  • Open cookers and steam ovens that are under pressure


Fryers are particularly dangerous. Here are tips for working with fryers:

  • Dry off wet food and brush or shake off excess ice crystals with a clean paper towel before placing it in the fryer basket. Wet foods splatter and cause steam.
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands and arms from splashes
  • Never fill fryer baskets more than half full
  • Gently raise and lower fryer baskets
  • Do not stand too close to or lean over hot oil
  • Keep liquids and beverages away from fryers
  • Follow directions for adding fat or oil


Overexertion includes two types of accidents:

  1. Those related to manual handling of containers, e.g., boxes and cartons
  2. Those related to fatigue

Manual handling

The key to preventing manual handling injuries is to reduce or eliminate the risk factors. Workplace factors associated with overexertion accidents include:

  • Awkward back posture held for a period of time or repeated due to poor working heights and reaches, e.g., reaching for linen or food supplies located on high shelves
  • Heavy or frequent lifting, pushing, pulling, and carrying, e.g., lifting and carrying bulk food containers, or taking materials from awkward places or putting them into awkward places
  • Prolonged sitting or standing positions such as:
    • front office staff who sit for long periods working on computers
    • hostesses or others whose duties consist of standing while greeting customers and working the cash register

How to reduce manual handling accidents

Here are examples of steps you can take to reduce overexertion accidents:

  • Store heavier or frequently used items at a height between workers' hips and chest
  • Use carts to move heavy products from storage, coolers, and freezers
  • Use platforms, counters, and tables to eliminate repetitive bending and lifting
  • Use smaller banquet trays to lighten loads and to make them easier to handle
  • Store clean plates on spring-loaded dollies to reduce repetitive bending
  • Add a footrest or matting to a hostess counter to give some relief from prolonged standing

Storage areas

Storage areas offer potential hazards including; haphazard stacking of supplies, and strains and falls while lifting.


  • Make sure shelves are firmly secured
  • Store heaviest items at waist height to ease lifting tasks
  • Ensure adequate lighting
  • Store chemicals, detergents, and pesticides in a separate area away from foodstuffs
  • Ensure that chemicals that are not compatible with each other are not stored together (refer to safety data sheets)
  • Use bins and racks as much as possible
  • Leave adequate clearance between the top of the stored goods and the ceiling in areas protected by a sprinkler system

Do not:

  • Block passages in the storage area
  • Stack loose items on the top shelves
  • Overload shelves
  • Store cardboard cartons in damp areas

Source: BLR- Business & Legal Resources

Injured finger
This document is intended for general information purposes only, and should not be construed as advice or opinions on any specific facts or circumstances. The content of this document is made available on an “as is” basis, without warranty of any kind. This document can’t be assumed to contain every acceptable safety and compliance procedures or that additional procedures might not be appropriate under the circumstances. Markel does not guarantee that this information is or can be relied on for compliance with any law or regulation, assurance against preventable losses, or freedom from legal liability. This publication is not intended to be legal, underwriting, or any other type of professional advice. Persons requiring advice should consult an independent adviser.  Markel does not guarantee any particular outcome and makes no commitment to update any information herein, or remove any items that are no longer accurate or complete. Furthermore, Markel does not assume any liability to any person or organization for loss or damage caused by or resulting from any reliance placed on that content.

*Markel Specialty is a business division of Markel Service, Incorporated, the underwriting  manager for the Markel affiliated insurance companies.
© 2022 Markel Service, Incorporated.  All rights reserved. 
Was this helpful?