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Kitchen workers

Kitchen workers such as chefs, cooks and kitchen hands perform manual tasks covering a wide range of activities, some of which can be hazardous.

Hazardous manual tasks

Hazardous manual tasks can represent a risk to the health and safety of workers, with approximately half of the serious injuries to kitchen workers arising from muscular stress and repetitive movement.

Musculoskeletal disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include injuries such as sprains and strains of muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints.

MSDs most commonly occur from gradual wear and tear to the body. The parts of the body most commonly affected by working in kitchens include the shoulder, back and wrist.

Reducing the risk of injury

Workplace walk-throughs or inspections to identify hazards and consultation with your workers can be the most achievable way to reduce the risk injury from hazardous manual tasks.

Examples of the most common risk factors encountered are handling heavy loads as well as repetitive movements and awkward postures and all risk factors are subject to variations of roles and tasks.

Source of the risks

The risks for hazardous manual tasks in kitchens come from a range of sources including:

  • design and layout of work areas eg restricted spaces, heavy items stored on high or low shelves
  • the nature of the item, equipment or tool eg trolleys that are not appropriate for the task or are poorly maintained making them difficult to push/pull
  • the nature of the load (including heavy pots, bulky or awkward dry goods)
  • the working environment eg high temperatures and humidity
  • systems of work, work organisation and work practices eg repetitive tasks, inadequate breaks or task variety, unreasonable timeframes/workload.

Risk controls

Once hazardous manual tasks have been identified and assessed, determine what controls you need to implement to minimise the risk of injury. This may involve a single control measure or a combination of two or more different controls.

Eliminating the risk is the most effective control measure. If eliminating is not practical, minimising the risk so far as is reasonably practicable would be the next step.

Minimising the risk

Your first priority should always be to avoid the risks entirely, if reasonably practicable. Many manual tasks can be redesigned, modified, altered or substituted to minimise the risk of the hazards.

Controls that achieve this include:

Changing the design or layout of work areas

  • Reorganise the layout of the kitchen to avoid unnecessary stretching and/or lifting.
  • Use a dishwashing machine/pot and pan washer.

Improving workplace conditions

  • Replace or repair uneven or slippery floors.
  • Provide trolley ramps at changes in floor level.
  • Ensure all catering equipment is well maintained.
  • Ensure shelving is not overloaded.
  • Install automatic doors if workers need to carry things through them frequently.

Using mechanical aids

  • Use four-wheeled trolleys (with adjustable height or lockable castors, if needed).
  • Use large mixer bowls on wheeled dollies.
  • Use sack trucks.
  • Provide false bottoms in deep sinks to reduce awkward bending at the waist.
  • Use spring-loaded heated plate dispenser.

Redesigning individual tasks

  • Reduce the amount of twisting, bending, stooping, stretching, pushing and pulling.
  • Reduce the number of times it is necessary to do the task (without increasing the load each time).
  • Store heavy items on shelves at waist height.
  • Use teamwork for tasks such as moving a heavy pot.

Making loads easier to handle

  • Negotiate for goods supplied in large, awkward or heavy containers/bag/boxes to be provided in smaller sizes or weights or in more appropriate containers when moving and storing on shelves (eg replacing sacks with boxes/containers with built in handles or grips).
  • Use smaller containers for cleaning chemicals and/or appropriate siphons or pumps to avoid handling bulk containers.
  • Put heavy equipment on (lockable) castors to make cleaning routines easier.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

  • Provide and ensure workers wear fitted gloves that suit the task, aprons, and uniforms with long close-fitting sleeves, eye protection, non-slip shoes, hairnets or hats as appropriate.

Training in manual tasks

Train, inform and supervise all workers on important points such as:

  • the risks associated with manual tasks and repetitive movements involving twisting and stretching, how injuries can occur, and controls in place to minimise risks
  • correct use of any lifting aids or other equipment
  • safe lifting and handling techniques
  • reporting procedures and early detection of symptoms
  • reporting faults or failures in equipment, mechanical aids and PPE.

Remember to check that workers whose first language is not English have understood the training and information. This may require you to use signs, other visual information or a translator.

Individual characteristics

You also need to consider individual workers’ physical characteristics that may increase the risk, such as:

  • skills and experience (they may be inexperienced or unaccustomed to the job)
  • physical capacity (they may be younger, older, pregnant or have existing health issues).

Thermal comfort

Heat and humidity

High temperatures and humidity can affect the health and comfort of kitchen workers and contribute to heat stress.

Reduce the risks by:

  • providing good ventilation systems and maintaining air quality through regular cleaning and maintenance of cooker hoods and fume extraction/ventilation systems
  • installing air conditioning, or using fans to increase airflow
  • educating workers on the symptoms of heat stress
  • providing cool water for workers and instructing them to drink small amounts frequently during and after work
  • providing rest breaks in a cool place
  • ensuring clothing and footwear is suitable for working in a kitchen environment eg slip-resistant footwear and clothing that is not restrictive.


Kitchen workers may be exposed to cold if they store or retrieve food supplies from large walk-in freezers. Cold temperatures can increase the risk of muscle strain and loss of manual dexterity.

 Reduce the risks with:

  • protective clothing, such as thermal gloves and jackets where appropriate
  • sufficient and suitable breaks to regain warmth.

More information on thermal comfort and heat stress is available in the Code of Practice – Managing the Work Environment and Facilities.

Task specific risk controls - Kitchen workers

This information is for people who work in kitchen and food service areas of health care facilities. It identifies common risk areas and provides practical examples of how you can help control and improve safety in your workplace.

Food preparation

Common risks associated with cooking, baking, cutting and chopping ingredients, stirring, and lifting and carrying large, heavy pots may include:

  • repetitive motion of the hands, arms, wrists and shoulders when stirring or chopping
  • forceful lifting or carrying of heavy bowls or pots
  • awkward reaching, bending and twisting of the back
  • awkward forward bending of the back when stirring and reaching, and tipping soup kettles
  • awkward and static postures.

Effective risk controls may include:

  • keeping knives sharp and in good condition
  • using chopping machines for vegetables to reduce manual chopping (or buy pre-prepared vegetables)
  • workbenches of different heights
  • large soup kettles with extended handles to make it easier to tip the kettle when pouring liquid into smaller containers.

Check for safer work practices

  • Use sharp knives. Dull blades cause more incidents because they are harder to work with and require more pressure. Sharp knives cut more effectively and do not slip as easily.
  • Choose the correct sized knife and appropriate blade for the job. Using a small knife for a task that requires a chef’s knife can be dangerous.
  • Work at the correct bench height for the task, not too low or too high. Use low, stable platforms to work at surfaces that are too high. Platforms on the floor should be placed in a position/area where they are not a trip hazard.
  • Have two people move heavy soup kettles/pots.

Food mixers

Common risks associated with large food mixers and mixing bowls, aside from entanglement, may include:

  • awkward bending and twisting of the back
  • forceful lifting and carrying of heavy mixing bowls.

Effective risk controls may include:

  • ensuring that large mixers are placed at a height that allows access to the mixing bowl handles between mid-thigh and waist height to reduce bending at the waist
  • ensuring that, if a mixer is on a raised platform, the platform is fixed firmly to the floor and can handle the weight of the mixer
  • providing dollies designed for mixing bowls to transport heavy bowls to other areas of the kitchen (they should have handles for pushing and be high enough so that workers do not have to bend excessively to reach the bowl)
  • encouraging two workers to lift and lower the mixing bowl together.

Check for safer work practices:

  • Use dollies to move heavy bowls around the kitchen.
  • Lift or lower mixing bowls using two workers, one on each side holding the handles.

Ovens and steamers

Common risks associated with the use of ovens and steamers, aside from burns, arise from the height of the equipment and shelves, and may include:

  • awkward bending and twisting of the back
  • awkward reaching
  • forceful lifting and carrying of hot items.

Effective risk controls may include:

  • providing ovens with side-hinged doors rather than bottom-hinged doors, to allow easier oven access
  • ensuring oven racks are between mid-thigh to below shoulder height, to minimise awkward posture.

Check for safer work practices:

  • Use oven mitts when handling all food and food containers in ovens.
  • Have two people lift heavy trays of food into or from ovens.
  • Use correct posture while lifting oven trays, avoiding twisting and bending.

Pot and pan washing

Common risks associated with manual pot and pan washing in large, deep sinks may include:

  • heavy lifting
  • awkward bending and twisting when leaning over sinks for long periods
  • repetitive wrist and shoulder movements, and forceful arm exertions, when scrubbing
  • repetitive reaching into pots
  • contact stress on hips when leaning into sinks.

Effective risk controls may include provision of:

  • automatic pot-washing dishwashers
  • false bottoms in deep sinks to reduce the need to bend awkwardly at the waist
  • water jet sprays for the removal of baked-on food, avoiding the need to hold pots under running water
  • a range of cleaning brushes suited to particular tasks
  • appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as non-slip shoes, and properly fitted, insulated gloves with extra-long cuffs and extra grip on palms and fingertips to reduce the gripping force needed to handle greasy dishes
  • non-slip fatigue mats for workers who are stationary or stand for long periods of time.

Check for safer work practices:

  • Use mechanical aids, tools or equipment provided.
  • Use arms for support, including resting free arm on the pot surface to reduce the gripping force needed to hold it securely.
  • Place your free hand on the side of a soup kettle to support the upper body and reduce lower back stress.
  • Move large diameter pots as close as possible to the front of the sink and rotate them during washing to reduce reaching across the pot.
  • Use long-handled cleaning brushes to prevent awkward reaching into soup kettles or pots.
  • Remove baked-on food stuck to pots with strong-bristled brushes to reduce the amount of force required.
  • Wear PPE eg non-slip shoes, gloves to protect your skin from hot water.
  • Keep floors dry and clean – attend to spills immediately.


Common risks associated with removing dishes from meal trolleys, scraping and rinsing dishes, and sorting and loading dishwashing machines, aside from skin conditions, may include:

  • repeated lifting and handling of full dish racks or heavy dish trays and cutlery buckets
  • repetitive twisting and bending of workers’ backs standing at or leaning over sinks
  • awkward reaching across sinks or work surfaces
  • grasping dishes by fingertips (pinch grips).

Effective risk controls may include provision of:

  • rollers/conveyors and trolleys for moving large quantities of dishes
  • dishwashing machines (rather than sink washing)
  • cleaning tools with good grips for when heavy duty cleaning is required.

Check for safer work practices:

  • Push trays along counters towards the dishwasher rather than lifting.
  • Use rollers/conveyors (if provided) to push dish racks towards dishwashing machines.
  • Spread the load of dish racks by using more than one rack to avoid overloading.
  • Grip trays at the midpoint rather than the front edge, and carry them as close to the body as possible, mindful of hot surfaces.
  • Use mechanical aids, tools or equipment provided e.g. trolleys, cleaning tools, fatigue mats.
  • Wear the PPE provided eg non-slip shoes, gloves to protect your skin from hot water.
  • Keep floors dry and clean – attend to spills immediately.

Cleaning and waste removal

Common risks associated with cleaning, scrubbing and sanitising kitchen and dish areas, and waste removal, aside from skin conditions, may include:

  • forceful exertion
  • awkward shoulder or back postures
  • cuts, bruises and pressure injuries.

Effective risk controls may include providing:

  • long-handled brushes where reaching is required
  • cleaning tools that have soft rubber-like handles to reduce gripping force
  • platforms of adequate size to minimise excessive reaching
  • liquid waste disposal systems that enable separation of liquid from solid waste, thus reducing the weight of garbage bags
  • signs near bins to remind people not to overfill them.

Check for safer work practices:

  • Use brushes, cleaning tools, mechanicals aids and equipment provided.
  • When cleaning items that are higher than shoulder level, use a platform to minimise excessive reaching. Keep both feet on the platform at all times.
  • When cleaning items low to the ground, place one knee on a padded surface and use the opposite hand for support to reduce the amount of weight on the knees. Alternatively, sit on a low stool.
  • Use power washers.
  • Use smaller bags or bins to reduce the weight.
  • Mount waste bins on wheels for easy movement.


Common risks associated with shelving of pots and pans in kitchens, and use of dry and cold food storage areas may include:

  • heavy lifting
  • repetitive and awkward reaching or bending to either higher or lower shelves
  • awkward postures due to congested storage areas.

Effective risk controls may include:

  • using lifting aids such as trolleys or carts to move dishes or foods into storage areas
  • arranging storage areas so that heavy items are easier to deal with eg not up too high or down too low
  • providing storage areas as close as possible to working areas to reduce carrying distances
  • keeping food localised eg installing chilled storage under working surfaces
  • purchasing bulk goods in smaller, easier to handle containers
  • adjusting the height and situation of shelving or racks
  • ensuring storage areas are not overloaded, and have sufficient access/egress.

Check for safer work practices:

  • Label areas to make it easy to locate items.
  • Store frequently used, heavier items within easy reach (between mid-thigh and elbow height), and lighter items between elbow and shoulder height.
  • Store infrequently used heavy items on lower shelves and lighter items on higher shelves.
  • Keep storage areas clear and free from obstructions.
  • Set up storage areas with enough space to use mechanical aids, as needed.
  • Use adjustable height handling aids during shelf stacking and stocktaking.