Working within the catering industry can result in a number of musculoskeletal conditions that can affect the back, hands, neck and legs. They are often caused by repetitive, forceful tasks, and/or poor posture whilst performing such tasks; lifting heavy loads can also cause issues in the longer-term.
There are a number of ways that management can help to reduce the risks of employees developing musculoskeletal disorders. In order for this to be deemed suitable and sufficient in the eyes of the law, the hierarchy of control measures must be followed. The hierarchy of control measures require an employer to eliminate a risk activity wherever possible. This can be as simple as ordering smaller boxes to reduce the size and weight to carry, arranging storage to prevent the need for lifting and providing lifting aids and trolleys where possible. The residual activities of the task must then be subject to a risk assessment – drawing out the detail of the task to address specific areas of risk, and adopting suitable control measures. The risk assessment should use the MAC tool provided by the Health and Safety Executive if it includes manual handling tasks, such as pushing, pulling, lifting or carrying.
All risk assessments must consult relevant staff in the process, and be specific to the task, in order to comply with all of the relevant regulations.
Below is an example of a careful assessment of activities within a catering kitchen. The employees, waitresses, waiters, cooks and porters, were exposed to a number of activities on a daily basis that included preparing and cooking food; cleaning pots, pans and equipment; and taking food to customers, to name but a few. In order to assess the control measures that needed to be implemented, management observed the employees as they went about their tasks.
The resulting control measures can be divided into four categories:
Lifting heavy items – the main issues surrounding the lifting of heavy items related to the pots and pans that were in use. They were awkward and heavy to move from one place to another when full of product, so management ensured that employees knew to use a trolley in order to do this. Employees were also instructed to use the correct size pots and pans for the volume of food being prepared. Management installed a water jet sprayer to make it easier for employees to clean the pots whilst they were in the sink without needing to pick them up and fill them with water; they also installed chilled food storage in the food prep area so that employees wouldn’t need to carry heavy pots and pans to and from the chiller to the food prep area.
Other measures that management implemented included replacing the dishwasher with a new model that made it easier for employees to load it with the pots and pans without causing strain to the lower back; and also changing the handles on oven doors that enabled the employees to open them easily with their elbows, thus reducing the need to put pans down to open the door and then lift them again.
Repetitive actions – this was easily rectified by ensuring that the employees worked on a rota basis, swapping jobs throughout the day to help prevent them from repeating the same tasks for a prolonged period of time.
Poor posture – employees complained of aches and pains relating to washing pots and pans in the sink, as well as when cleaning the glass inside the large ovens. Management rectified this by providing sinks that had a narrower front edge, which eliminated the need for employees to lean over into the sink to clean the pans; they also changed the glass on the ovens so that it could be swung out and cleaned easily without employees needing to twist into awkward positions. Other measures that management implemented included replacing floor-standing cupboards with drawers, making equipment more easily accessible; they also reorganised the shelves so that the items that were most often used were at a better height for employees to access them without straining themselves.
Force – employees complained about the force that was required to scrub pots and pans before they could be put into the dishwasher. Management corrected this issue by purchasing strong bristled brushes that made it much easier to scrub off tough food stains; they also ensured that there were plenty of spares. Other issues included the dishwasher door and the door to the chill room having become stiff with age and, therefore, a lot of force was required to open them. Management replaced the dishwasher and also fitted a new hinge to the chill room door that allowed it to be opened and closed with the minimum of force.