Cuts are not only a danger to the employee but customers are put at risk too whenever an employee slices their finger open. Life threatening illnesses like HIV and Hepatitis can be transferred through human blood. So it is important that commercial kitchen workers take extra care when handling or working with sharp objects.
Restaurant workers are most at risk of cut or puncture injuries when performing the following tasks:
- Knife cuts. A lot of food preparation tasks require workers to use knives or other manual cutting tools. As workers rush to get batches of food ready for cooking or serving, a simple slip of the hand can result in a sliced finger.
- Cleaning the restroom. Needles are a concern when cleaning restrooms because diabetic customers may not properly dispose of their used needles.
- Cleaning up broken glass. Shards of glass can be razor sharp. If the employee tries to clean a broken cup or plate up with their hands, they can easily be cut.
- Automatic cutting equipment. Food slicers help food prep workers prepare orders quickly, but the spinning blades pose a threat to workers that fail to heed safety procedures.
What Employees Can Do to Protect Themselves
Restaurant employees are responsible for following all safety and training guidelines given to them by managers. The following list highlights some safety tips for employees to follow when performing cutting tasks in the kitchen:
- Follow safety guidelines. When handling professional cutlery, there are several safety tips workers can follow to protect themselves from harm.
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- Avoid talking to coworkers. Talking with someone while using a knife or other cutting tool is distracting and can result in a cut finger.
- Do not crush garbage bags. Sharp objects inside the bag will poke through and cause injury.
- Store knives properly. Do not store sharp objects in a drawer with the cutting edge exposed; this can damage the blade and injure a person reaching into the drawer. Knife racks are specifically designed to safely store cutlery.
- Use hand protection. Cut resistant gloves are made of a wire mesh surrounded by nylon or other durable material. The wire mesh helps protect hands from cuts while the nylon makes them comfortable and washable.
- Do not touch needles. Guests that require insulin or other injected medications may leave their used needles on the table or in the restroom. Do no pick them up. Contact your supervisor to properly dispose of them.
- Use a pusher block. Pusher blocks or the automatic slicing feature on commercial slicers keep the operator’s fingers away from the spinning blade.
- Do not use a glass to scoop ice. The glass can break and cause cuts and will contaminate the entire bin of ice. Plastic scoops are the only products NSF certified for safe ice handling.
What Employers Can Do to Protect Employees
Restaurant owners and managers are responsible for providing proper training and safety equipment for all potentially hazardous restaurant operations. Cutting tasks fall under the realm of potential hazards and need to be properly addressed. Some suggestions for assuring safe cutting practices include:
- Send employees to the hospital. If an employee is stuck by a needle or cut by a sharp object that may contain human blood or other body fluids, it is important that they seek immediate medical attention.
- Provide needle disposal bins. Placing needle disposal bins in the restroom will minimize the risk of an employee being stuck.
- Keep knives sharp. A dull knife is more likely to slip and cut someone than a sharp one. » Learn More
- Teach proper knife handling. Employees that know how to properly handle and use a knife are less likely to have accidents.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets standards that are designed to protect all workers in any work environment. There are specific standards that relate to cut prevention that employers must follow in order to provide a safe work environment and avoid non-compliance fines.
- Standard 1910.132. Employers must provide hand protection when employees are performing any task that can cause injury to the hands. Cut resistant gloves are hand protection that must be provided for employees performing cutting tasks.
- Standard 1910.138(a). Employers are required to enforce proper use of hand protection when performing hazardous tasks.
- Standard 1910.1030. Employers must provide an exposure control plan to protect employees from possible infections caused by blood borne pathogens.
Exposure Control Plan
An Exposure Control Plan (ECP) is designed to minimize or eliminate exposure to bloodborne pathogens. In establishments where exposure to human blood is a possibility, OSHA requires that an ECP be in place and include the following elements:
- Determination of employee exposure. This includes a list of tasks that employees will perform that may bring them into contact with human blood. Cutting tasks are an example.
- Methods of exposure control. Precautions must be in place to prevent contact with blood or other infectious material.
- Hazard communication. All new employees must be informed that they may potentially be exposed to bloodborne pathogens.
- Post-exposure evaluation. If an employee or customer is exposed to blood, the reasons surrounding the incident must be evaluated and corrective actions taken to minimize any future occurrences.
- Recordkeeping. Accurate records of all training and exposures must be kept, so health and safety inspectors know an exposure control plan is in place.