Preventing Kitchen Injuries Before They Happen

In “Bumps, Bruises and Breaks: Staying Safe in School Kitchens,” writer Karly Kolaja offered up a myriad ways to react if someone gets hurt (either mildly or seriously) while at work. There are a lotof ways to hurt yourself in the kitchen. Between sharp knives, hot ovens and spilled liquids, it’s a fairly accident-prone place to work. And while you should certainly be prepared to treat kitchen injuries, you should also take some time to lean how to prevent them.

First, assess your kitchen and look for potential hazards. Double-check that all of your cooking utensils and equipment are properly stored and in working order, and make sure that your sinks, refrigerators, freezers or ice machines seal and have rubber mats on the floor in front of them. If your floor seems particularly slick, consider treating it with slip-resistant coatings and invest in high-quality cleaning products for spills. You’ll also want to make sure that your fire detector works properly.

Another key part of staying safe in the kitchen is communication. Invest in “wet floor” or “caution” floor signs in the event of spills (or the resulting cleanup), and encourage your coworkers to be vocal about what they’re doing. Announcing that you’re carrying something “hot” or are walking “behind” someone can help prevent falls, collisions and even burns or cuts. If you do spill something, put up your hazard signs and clean it up quickly. The less people who have the chance to go near it, the better.

In addition to keeping your gear in working order, training in proper equipment and knife handling can help ensure that kitchen cuts are a rarity. If you use a commercial slicer or mandolin, see if there are guards available that will separate your fingers from the blade. You may also want to consider investing in some cut-resistant gloves. And make sure you keep your knives sharp and stored with the blades covered.

You’ll also want to take similar precautions to protect yourself against burns—make sure that your oven and stovetop are clean (grease can lead to fires) and functioning properly. Don’t skimp on the potholders, and see that they’re easily accessible to all employees throughout the kitchen. Be careful not to overload your cooking appliances—you need room to maneuver around hot pots and pans, and stand back when you’re taking a lid off of boiling or hot water. Steam can cause serious burns. Most importantly, though, take your time! Whether you’re draining boiling pasta water or taking a sheet of cookies out of the oven, the less you rush, the less likely you’ll be to burn yourself.

While it might not seem like an obvious way to stay safe in the kitchen, making sure you’re wearing appropriate gear can seriously help. Avoid wearing loose clothing or jewelry (it could get stuck in a machine), and make sure your hair is kept out of range, too. Wear long sleeves to reduce burns and skid-resistant, closed toed shoes to lessen your chances of slipping.

There are plenty of ways to injure yourself in the kitchen. Chances are, you’ve gotten hurt once or twice before. But luckily, there are just as many ways to prevent kitchen injuries—and with proper planning, preparation and practice, you can go a long way in making sure you and your coworkers stay safe and healthy on the job.

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