The saying "If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen" is not something commercial kitchen employees should take seriously. Those who work on the cook line should be able to stand the heat. If not, something is probably wrong with the ventilation. If left unchecked, excessive restaurant heat can endanger the lives of employees.
Restaurant employees who are regularly subjected to extreme heat can suffer the following dangers:1
- Heat rashes. A skin irritation caused by excessive sweating. Heat rashes look like small blisters or pimples.
- Heat cramps. Usually occurring in the abdomen, legs or arms, heat cramps are associated with people who sweat for long periods of time and deplete their body’s salt and moisture. Low salt levels can result in muscle cramps and can be a precursor to heat exhaustion.
- Heat exhaustion. A mild heat-related illness, heat exhaustion occurs after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate fluid replenishment. Fast and shallow breathing as well as a fast and weak pulse are common symptoms. If untreated, heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke.
- Heat stroke. Occurring when the body temperature rises above 106 °F for 10-15 minutes, heat stroke is the result of the body’s inability to cool itself. Lack of sweat, hyperventilation and loss of consciousness are indicators of heat stroke. If left untreated, heat stroke can cause permanent disabilities or death.
- Dehydration. Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluids than it takes in and no longer has enough water to perform normal functions. Cotton mouth, extreme thirst, headache and dizziness are all symptoms of dehydration. If you do not drink enough water, dehydration will increase your risks of heat-related illnesses.
What Employees Can Do to Protect Themselves
- Dress for the heat. Wear cool, breathable clothes, like cotton, while working in hot conditions.
- Do not ignore excessive kitchen heat. Tell your supervisor if kitchen temperatures are becoming unbearable. Something could be wrong with the ventilation system.
- Drink plenty of water. Drinking water and eating fruits and vegetables (foods with a lot of water in them) will help prevent dehydration and other heat-related illnesses. Remember, if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.
- Cool down. Take breaks out of the hot environment to let your body cool down.
- Know the warning signs. Learn the warning signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke and ways to combat these illnesses once they begin. A person that shows the signs of heat stroke will need immediate medical attention. Call the paramedics try to make them as cool as possible until help arrives.
- Do not drink caffeine. Caffeine does not help hydrate the body. In fact, it cause the body to dehydrate faster. So avoid drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks while working in hot environments.
- Take plenty of breaks. Whether working in the kitchen or unloading delivery trucks during the summer months, take plenty of breaks in a cool, shaded area to prevent heat-related illnesses.
What Employers Can Do to Protect Employees
Commercial kitchen managers and owners can follow these tips to reduce their employees’ susceptibility to heat-related dangers:
- Schedule deliveries for the morning. The coolest time of the day are the early morning hours. Schedule summertime deliveries for the morning to minimize an employee’s risk of developing a heat-related illness.
- Give employees time to adapt. Give new employees time to become accustomed to working in the hot kitchen. Only have them work in the kitchen for 50% of their work day for a five-day period, so they can become used to the hot environment.2
- Tell them the dangers. Educate employees on the dangers of excessive heat and what to do should they become overheated.
- Encourage workers to drink plenty of water. Providing reusable cups and free drinks to employees will encourage them to get something to drink when they are thirsty. Try to steer workers away from caffeinated beverages, since caffeine does not help the body hydrate.
- Keep cooking areas as cool as possible. Air conditioning, small fans and proper kitchen ventilation can all help keep the kitchen cool. This is most important during rush periods when employees are working hard and may not remember to stop and take a drink.
- Make sure the vent hoods are working properly. If the vent hood filters are clogged or the system is damaged in some way, it can affect the performance and make the kitchen feel like a sauna. Regularly clean and inspect the ventilation system to assure efficient operation. A properly functioning vent hood will help decrease your energy bill, too. » Learn More
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