Sponsored by DayMark
Foodservice operators can minimize the physical and financial pain caused by injuries from sharp blades by implementing practices and procedures that help protect their workers.
Noncommercial operators in particular can face challenges in minimizing injuries from cuts and lacerations, with their large kitchens and — in the case of college and university venues — young, often inexperienced staff.
“Cuts are not only a danger to the employee, but customers are also put at risk when an employee slices their finger open,” says the Washington Hospitality Association (WHA) in a statement. “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.”
Hand injuries are estimated to cost the national foodservice industry $300 million per year in medical costs, time lost from work and other workers’ compensation insurance losses, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Employers are responsible for providing the training and equipment necessary for workers to minimize the dangers of working with sharp equipment in the kitchen, and the workers themselves are responsible for following the safety guidelines issued by their employers.
An essential investment
“Cut protection is an essential investment,” says Ed Sharek, category manager of facility-employee safety for DayMark. “It should be used when cutting any type of food product with such tools as a knife or deli slicer. If someone cuts themselves and has to go to urgent care, that one injury alone will cost more than an entire cut glove program for a year.”
Sharek notes that while several types of cut protection gloves are available for use in the kitchen, gloves should have between A4 and A7 OSHA Cut Resistance Levels.
“Many cut gloves give the best protection in the highest area of concern — around the thumb and index finger — and are form-fitting, giving the gloves a high level of dexterity,” he says. “Dexterity is important as it gives the worker a better feel and allows them to grip the product better. The more comfortable the user is wearing the glove, the more likely they are to wear it.”
Proscribed use of gloves
Often foodservice operators include specific direction within their employee handbooks concerning the use of cut protection gloves. The Taco Bell Handbook, for example, states that workers should always wear a cut protection glove when using a knife.
Other foodservice company handbooks also require wearing such gloves when cleaning an electric slicer.
The University of Nebraska Safe Operating Procedure manual specifies that “hand protection is necessary” when there is a risk of contact with sharp objects or surfaces that could result in severe cuts or lacerations, such as knives. Cut resistant gloves are generally intended for manual tasks that present a cut hazard, such as de-boning and vegetable prep, the manual states.
OSHA requires that employers perform a hazard assessment of their workplace, and provide enough gloves for everyone who needs them.
“Cutting tasks fall under the realm of potential hazards and need to be properly addressed,” the WHA says.
Safety tips for employers
The WHA offers the following suggestions to help ensure safe cutting practices:
• Keep knives sharp. A dull knife is more likely to slip and cut someone than a sharp one.
• Teach proper knife handling. Employees who know how to properly handle and use a knife are less likely to have accidents.
One manager at a hospital foodservice venue says that he requires employees to wear cut protection gloves for certain operations in the kitchen, including prepping avocados.
“We teach workers which knife to use for each task, how to handle the knives properly, and always to pay attention whenever they have a knife in their hand,” he says.
Knives are sharpened daily and stored on a magnetic wall rack. Workers are taught to wash the knives themselves and place them back in the rack after each use, and never to leave knives in a sink of dirty or soapy water.
Some operators also recommend that a cut protection glove be worn when washing knives.
An added benefit of providing a safe workplace is that it can help in recruiting talent, which has become especially challenging in today’s environment of low unemployment. A recent survey by Employers, a provider of insurance for small businesses, found that the safety of the work environment was among the top criteria employees consider when evaluating a new job offer.
“One way for employers to attract and retain valued talent is to have and communicate a commitment to workplace safety,” says David Quezada, vice president of loss control at Employers.
Creating a safe work environment starts at the top, he says, with leaders who set an example and listen to worker concerns.
For noncommercial foodservice operators, providing cut protection and safety training are important elements of creating a safe work environment that benefits everyone.