Danger lurking in F&B kitchens

-- ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL
-- ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL

Most of the 658 F&B-related minor injuries last year happened in kitchens

Flying knives, boiling water, roaring flames and slippery floors - the hotel or restaurant kitchen can be a dangerous place to work in.

Though the kitchen may not spring to mind when it comes to workplace health and safety issues, a surprising number of workplace accidents happen there, according to figures from the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council.

There were 658 minor injuries incurred during food-and-beverage service activities last year, up from 556 such injuries in 2011.

Most of these happened in the kitchen and included cuts and stabs; slips, trips and falls; and burns and scalds.

The council could not give numbers, but The Straits Times understands that the number of major injuries, such as those resulting in permanent disability, did not exceed 20 a year.

Workplace deaths in the accommodation and food services industry are also rare, with none in 2011 and only one in 2012, when a chef was killed by an exploding gas convection oven.

Even so, seemingly minor chores carry risks too, like carrying pots and pans, said consultant chef Yogesh Arora. "Your backbone might be affected when you're carrying these heavy things." And if the floor is wet, the risks are compounded: "You can imagine, if you're carrying something heavy and you trip, you can really get hurt."

Neither the WSH Council nor industry players take work safety in the industry lightly.

Personal protective equipment, for instance, does not just mean hard-hats and harnesses at construction sites. At McDonald's outlets, safety-wear takes the form of non-slip shoes and aprons for all kitchen staff.

Staff who enter walk-in freezers must put on special jackets, while those who need to filter cooking oil are armed with gloves and a face shield.

"Our people are our most important asset and we are committed to providing them with a safe and energising work environment," said Mr Steven Lim, director of restaurant solutions at McDonald's restaurants.

The use of personal protective equipment is part of official guidelines for work safety in the industry, and is part of standard practice, said firms.

McDonald's service crew also have to attend 16 hours of in-house workplace safety and health training when they join the company, while managers undergo 24 hours, including external courses. There are various WSH courses under the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications framework.

Risk assessment, another practice associated with high-risk sectors such as construction, also has its place in the kitchen.

It involves identifying and controlling risks associated with particular activities or equipment, and could apply to anything from operating construction cranes to using gas stoves.

In Park Hotel Group's hotels - Grand Park Orchard, Grand Park City Hall and Park Hotel Clarke Quay - risk assessments are carried out for kitchen tasks too.

Simple steps taken by the hotels to improve kitchen safety include placing anti-slip mats at kitchen entrances, issuing safety boots to staff, and using trolleys rather than carrying food items.

While workplace safety is no laughing matter, the WSH Council is also using fun means to get its message across.

To raise awareness of safety in the hospitality and entertainment industries, the council is holding a competition later this month.

Teams of staff will race around Resorts World Sentosa, completing tasks that mimic workplace hazards such as cleaning up broken glass and extinguishing fires.

They stand to gain up to $2,000 in prizes - and perhaps a deeper appreciation of how to tackle kitchen dangers.

For chef Winnie Thng, however, flames and boiling water are not the only hazards - lack of rest is, too.

"There can be many safety measures in place, but if a worker is too tired, the risks of any accident increase," she said, noting that the manpower shortage has meant longer shifts in many food and beverage establishments.

janiceh@sph.com.sg