Strain and Sprain Hazards in the Commercial Kitchen


Commercial kitchen workers perform some of the same tasks day-in and day-out, and restaurant floors are usually tile or another hard surface. These conditions can often lead to strain or sprain injuries. Whether it is from spending hours cutting tomatoes by hand or reaching out a drive-thru window to hand a customer their order, no restaurant employee is immune to the risks posed by overworking the same muscles every day.

Potential Hazards

  • Standing for long periods of time. Continuously standing in one position for long periods of time places strain on the leg joints and muscles and can result in injury.
  • Hard floor surfaces. Standing on hard floor surfaces, like concrete, can lead to chronic foot pain.
  • Over-reaching. Over-reaching while lifting or carrying items can cause shoulder, back and neck injuries.
  • Repetitive tasks. Performing repetitive tasks, like chopping vegetables, can result in forearm and wrist injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Lifting heavy objects. Lifting objects that are too heavy for one person to handle can result in pulled back muscles.

What Employees Can Do to Protect Themselves

Having good posture and knowing the limits of their strength are the best ways commercial kitchen employees can reduce their risk of strain and sprain injuries. Here are tips to reduce the chances of bodily harm while performing every day tasks in the restaurant:

  • Wear shoes with good cushioning. Shoes with well-cushioned soles and arches offer the best support and reduce strain on the feet and legs.
  • Regularly shift standing positions. Do not stand in one position for extended periods of time. Continually change position to keep blood flowing into all limbs and reduce strain on particular limbs and joints.
  • Organize your work environment. Keep frequently used items readily at hand to reduce the amount of twisting, leaning and reaching required to access all necessary tools.
  • Lift with your legs. When lifting objects off the floor, bend at the knees and hips, keep your back straight and head up. Your legs are far stronger than your arms, so utilize that strength when lifting heavy objects. When setting heavy objects down, use the same posture.
  • Get help for heavy items. Get help when lifting items that are too heavy or awkward to handle alone.
  • Stock heavy items on lower shelves. This reduces the strain accompanied with lifting heavy objects overhead. Also, Use a stool or ladder to reach objects on higher shelves.
  • Use carts. Food service carts limit the amount of lifting and carrying required.
  • Keep stacks of plates or boxes below eye level. Carrying stacked items that are above eye level puts undue strain on your neck, shoulders and lower back. Plus, by obstructing your view, you run the risk of slipping or falling. » Learn More
  • Turn with your feet. When carrying heavy objects, turn with your feet rather than twisting at the hips and back. Twisting can result in pulled back and hip muscles.
  • Bring the glass to the pitcher. When filling glasses or mugs, move the cup to the pitcher rather than extending the heavier pitcher away from your body and straining your wrist, elbow and forearm.
  • Sort items on the food tray. When carrying trays of food, balance the load by placing heavier plates in the center. And utilize both your hand and forearm to stabilize and carry the tray.
  • Work your way around the table. Carry an individual plate of food around the table to the customer, rather than reaching across the table.

What Employers Can Do to Protect Employees

Restaurant owners and managers have the responsibility to protect their employees from harm. They can help reduce a worker’s risk of strain or sprain injuries by implementing some of the following suggestions:

  • Provide stools and foot rest bars. These will allow drive-thru workers and cashiers to sit down or shift positions regularly to reduce foot and leg strain.
  • Purchase food preparation equipment. Mechanical food prep equipment will minimize the amount of manual preparation tasks employees need to perform.
  • Purchase kitchen tools with ergonomic handles. Ergonomic handles are designed to provide a sure, comfortable grip and reduce wrist and forearm strain.
  • Install a drive-thru window drop box. So employees will not have to bend and stretch to take money or deliver food to drive-thru customers.
  • Minimize repetitive tasks. Rotate workers through different tasks to alleviate the amount of strain on any one employee.
  • Purchase carts. Food service carts reduce the amount of carrying employees must do. Select carts with larger wheels that will roll easier and are less likely to get caught on carpet edges.
  • Limit trash can size. Smaller trash cans mean employees do not have to strain themselves handling large bags of garbage.
  • Place anti-fatigue mates in heavy traffic areas. Anti-fatigue mats will help reduce foot, leg and lower back strain.
  • Invest in a fork lift, pallet jack or lift gate. When taking large or especially heavy equipment or supplies orders, large operations can invest in a fork lift or pallet jack to move around these items. Smaller restaurants can request that heavy orders arrive on a truck with a lift gate that will lower heavy items to the ground.

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