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Common kitchen accidents and how to prevent them

A busy mobile catering kitchen will be at the heart of many great food businesses. But it can be a hot and hectic place to work where accidents and injury happen all too often. With hungry customers waiting, it can be a high-pressured environment where staff are exposed to a variety of hazards unless proper care and attention is taken.

Woman cutting a tomato but also slicing her own finger

To help prevent the most common kitchen accidents from occurring we’ve put together this handy ‘How to’ guide. Ensuring you’re taking all the necessary precautions is essential for the health and safety of both your staff and customers.

Unfortunately, no matter how much work you’ve done to try to prevent accidents they can still happen. To help protect your business, staff and customers from the fall-out from such accidents it’s vital you have catering liability insurance in the UK in place before opening.

What are the most common causes of kitchen accidents? 

According to the Health and Safety Executive, accident statistics show the main risk areas for the catering industry are caused by slips and trips and manual handling accidents. While the most common cause of occupational ill health is from work related contact dermatitis.

But that’s not all!

Accidents can also arise from knife use, handling of hot kitchen equipment, oil and steam, and fire and electrical hazards. With so many dangers around, what can a responsible business owner do to prevent such accidents from occurring in the first place?

Let’s take a look.

How to prevent manual handling accidents

Back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders arising from manual handling injuries are the most common form of ill health catering staff can suffer in the UK.

All your staff must be properly trained in manual handling and general health and safety measures so as to avoid injury to their back, upper limbs, hands, wrists, shoulder and neck.

Manual handling can involve a wide variety of activities, including lifting, twisting, pushing, pulling, lowering and carrying. From washing dishes and cooking and preparing food to moving stock and serving meals, almost any task can put you at risk of injury if not done correctly.

Such injuries include sprains, joint problems, inflammation, back problems and musculoskeletal disorders.

As with any potential risk it’s vital that you know how to conduct a proper risk assessment for your mobile catering van.

Areas you should concentrate on include:

  • The handling tasks workers are doing. For example, carrying boxes and bending down to put food in ovens.
  • The loads they are lifting. How heavy are those trays of food? Are they particularly awkward to carry safely?
  • The environment they are working in. Mobile catering vans can be cramped spaces. Working in such places can make the risk of injury more likely.
  • The individual capabilities of each worker. For example, if a member is particularly tall then they might need to stoop down a lot for long periods of time at the counter. Staff aren’t going to be as fit and strong as each other.
  • Do they need to get into a difficult position in order to do their job? Such as, twisting and stretching to take food items, pans, trays and cups from high shelves.
  • The time spent on each task. How often do they need to lift items and for how long? Do they have adequate breaks?

Once you’ve performed a risk assessment you should have come up with ways to help prevent such accidents from occurring in the first place.

These might include:

  • Changing the layout of the kitchen to avoid unnecessary lifting or awkward stretching.
  • Using a dishwashing machine or other mechanical aids to make tasks easier.
  • Having breaks or using job rotation to minimise the time each individual spends on tasks where they’re at risk.
  • Redesigning individual tasks to reduce the risk.
  • Making loads easier to handle.
  • Putting heavy equipment on lockable castors to make cleaning easier.

The HSE information sheet on preventing manual handling injuries to catering staff is full of helpful suggestions on what can be done to help avoid risks on many tasks. From dishwashing, pot washing, and food preparation to storage, cleaning, waste removal and so much more.

When you have a small business, it can be all too easy to think that such accidents may never happen to you. But that would be a big mistake.

For the year 2020/21, a Labour Force Survey estimated that 470,000 UK workers were suffering from work-related musculoskeletal disorders which accounted for 28% of the total work-related ill health cases.

Injuries from manual handling can have short- and long-term effects on health. With many staff having to take time off to recover.

This can also result in increased pressure being put on the rest of the team which can affect staff morale and increase stress and overwork. And may even lead to yet more work-related injuries.

How to prevent slips, trips and falls

Slips, trips and falls account for a large number of accidents in the workplace but are often easily avoidable with a bit of care and attention. Indeed, the HSE says people working in kitchens and food service are more likely to be injured by slip and slip accidents than by anything else.

This is particularly the case in the confined space of a mobile catering vehicle.

When people slip, trip or fall risks include bruises and sprains. But they can also result in broken bones, spinal injury or even damage to the head. And when you consider that such an accident could happen while carrying hot items, the long-term effects including serious burns and scarring are significant.

The most common causes of such accidents are:

  • Wet or slippery floors.
  • Uneven or damaged flooring.
  • Steps or raised areas.
  • Obstacles left on the floor from poor housekeeping.

There’s a long list of possible measures to take to prevent slips, trips and falls in the HSE information sheet on preventing slips and trips in kitchens and food service.

These include:

  • Maintain kitchen equipment to stop any leaks of oil, water, or other liquids.
  • Use splash guards to contain spillages.
  • Install a well-maintained ventilation system to remove steam and grease before it can settle.
  • The floor of your catering vehicle needs to have enough slip resistance even when wet and oily.
  • Check steps, slopes and changes in level are safe.
  • Inspect floors for holes, damage or unevenness where someone could trip.
  • Use the right cleaning methods and materials for your floor.
  • Clean up spillages immediately.
  • Always use a wet floor sign to alert others to the hazard.
  • Avoid leaving dry materials like plastic bags or flour dust on the floor, as they can also create a slippery surface.
  • Train your staff on correct cleaning procedures. We have a Mobilers spring cleaning guide to help.
  • Ensure staff never need to rush around the vehicle and always take care.
  • Loads being carried should never obstruct the member of staff's view.
  • There should be a minimum ‘sensible shoe’ policy in force. Better yet, supply non-slip shoes to your staff.
  • Keep the kitchen well organised and avoid any obstructions.
  • Avoid leaving cables, wire or pipes trailing on the floor.
  • Keep fire routes and exits clear at all times.

To help you work out the best ways to reduce the risk of slip accidents, refer to the helpful table provided in the HSE guidance leaflet Stop slips in kitchens: A good practice guide.

The HSE has also teamed up with the Virtual College to develop a free-to-use online tool to provide slips and trips guidance through interactive learning.

Completing this package will help your staff’s understanding of slips and trips.

How to prevent knife injuries

Knives are an essential tool in any kitchen. But accidents involving knives are all too common. Indeed, they cause around 22% of all injuries in commercial kitchens. Such injuries usually involve cuts to the non-knife hand and fingers but can lead to injuries elsewhere including the upper arm and torso. As well as damage to tendons and nerves or even loss of body parts.

Common causes of knife injuries include:

  • Passing or picking up an unguarded knife.
  • Cutting on an unstable surface.
  • Cutting an unstable object.
  • Knife slippage when using a blunt blade.
  • Not using the correct protective equipment.
  • Using the wrong knife for the job in hand. There are specialist knives for many kitchen tasks.
  • Using a knife instead of a more appropriate tool.

Conducting risk assessments and ensuring you have adequate catering liability insurance UK in place are just two of the ways to protect your staff and business from harm.

The HSE has lots of helpful Dos and Don’ts that are worth following.

Top tips to help prevent knife accidents include:

  • Reduce knife use in the kitchen by investing in a veg prep machine or buying in pre-chopped foods.
  • Store knives safely after use. Never leave a knife loose and unattended.
  • Train staff in safe knife use.
  • Use a knife suitable for the task. Refer to our ultimate knife guide to help.
  • Use the correct chopping technique. There are a number of different chopping techniques worth mastering.
  • Keep knives sharp, clean, and damage free. And take extra care when doing so.
  • Ensure cutting surfaces are flat and stable.
  • Invest in protective equipment such as protective gloves and a butcher’s apron.
  • Never try to catch a falling knife.
  • Never use a knife for a job it was not designed for e.g., can opener.
  • Never put a knife in your pocket.
  • Never carry a knife while holding other objects.
  • Be professional at all times. Never fool around with a knife.

Of course, sometimes accidents happen, no matter how careful we are. That’s why catering liability insurance UK is always so essential.

How to prevent burn injuries

Someones hand touching the hot stovetop

Working in a mobile catering kitchen can expose staff to the risk of a burn injury. Whether hot oil and grease, naked flames, boiling water and steam or certain chemicals, all can present a kitchen hazard. Kitchen staff may also burn themselves on hot pans, ovens and griddles.

When the pressure builds in a busy kitchen and staff are racing to fulfil orders the chances of an accidental burn significantly increase. This is particularly the case when businesses are short-staffed or have not properly trained workers.

While many burn injuries are minor and can usually be dealt with by a trained first-aider, some will require hospital treatment. Losing a staff member through injury will severely impact your ability to do business.

To help prevent burns happening in your kitchen, do the following:

  • Wear protective clothing such as gloves, aprons and jackets.
  • Don’t wear loose or baggy clothing. Do your staff need a catering uniform? Safety is the number one reason to invest in professional standard kitchen clothing.
  • Avoid leaning over the stove or other hot surfaces. Hot steam or oil could escape from bubbling pots, and loose clothing may catch fire.
  • Don’t use metal utensils to stir hot liquid.
  • Don’t overfill pots and pans with liquids whilst cooking.
  • Don’t drop prepared products into fryers and pans. Hot oil splash can cause significant burns.
  • Take particular care around deep fat fryers.
  • After using a fryer or a deep-frying pan, avoid moving the oil until it has cooled.
  • Use gloves or oven mitts when taking items out of the oven or handling hot items.
  • Wear non-slip shoes.

Any burn injury or near-miss needs to be investigated to ensure all safe working practices are followed and updated as necessary. Over time the needs of your mobile catering business can change.

Contact Mobilers to check that your catering liability insurance UK is still fit for purpose.

How to prevent fire and electrical accidents

Faulty equipment or poorly trained staff are two of the biggest causes of fire and electrical accidents in the kitchen. When preparing and cooking food staff will need to use a range of kitchen equipment powered by electricity or gas. Faults in this equipment or human error can result in fires or electrocution.

Most mobile kitchens will include gas hobs, grills, ovens, deep fat fryers and a range of other specialist items. Learn more about gas safety in food trucks for some safety tips and preventative measures. Alongside the equipment your mobile catering vehicle will also need to store highly combustible materials such as towels and napkins, cooking oils, chemicals and cleaning fluids.

To prevent the chance of a fire or electrical accident occurring, do the following:

  • Ensure all staff receive regular fire training. Such as how to correctly identify the different types of fires, and how to prevent them.
  • Never leave equipment unattended when being operated.
  • Is all kitchen equipment safe and fit for purpose?
  • Make sure your oven, hob, grill, cooker hood, canopies, extractor fan, and ventilation system are kept clean. Fat and grease can soon build up here and cause a fire.
  • Have all commercial kitchen equipment serviced on a regular basis by a trained professional.
  • Conduct regular equipment maintenance inspections. And follow manufacturer’s instructions on correct use and maintenance.
  • Replace any electrical items that have frayed, loose or exposed wiring.
  • Repairs should only be done by qualified maintenance professionals.
  • Never use a damaged microwave. They can generate sparks and even leak radiation.
  • Avoid overloading sockets.
  • Follow clear procedures for opening and closing the kitchen. For example, checking the gas is switched off and everything is left clean and tidy before shutting for the day.
  • Store cleaning supplies properly and away from any sources of ignition. Cleaning chemicals must be kept in labelled containers.
  • Make sure there are appropriate fire extinguishers and a fire blanket available. These should be easy and quick to reach by all staff.
  • Ensure staff know how to use such fire safety equipment correctly.

Remember, as well as knowing all about fire and electrical safety issues, arranging catering liability insurance UK is a key part of keeping everyone safe. 

What should be in a mobile catering first aid kit?

No matter how many measures we take to prevent accidents from occurring, eventually an accident will happen.

Under the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 employers have to provide ‘adequate and appropriate’ first aid equipment to treat staff if they’re injured or taken ill while at work.

As well as having a properly trained first aider and information about your first aid arrangements, you’ll also need a first aid kit. What you will include in your first aid kit will vary from business to business according to an assessment of first-aid needs.

You’ll want to consider risk factors, employee needs, first aid box contents and emergency first aid requirements. Read this free HSE leaflet, which contains a useful checklist of what you should consider when carrying out the assessment.

There is no mandatory list of items that must be included in a kitchen first aid kit. But we would recommend the following as a minimum.

  • A leaflet providing general first aid guidance. For example, the HSE leaflet ‘Basic advice on first aid at work
  • A kit contents list
  • Conforming bandages
  • Medium sterile dressings
  • Large sterile dressings
  • Triangular bandages
  • Eye pad sterile dressings
  • Sterile eyewash
  • Sterile plasters of assorted sizes
  • Alcohol-free cleansing wipes
  • Adhesive tape
  • Pairs of disposable gloves
  • Sterile finger dressing
  • Resuscitation face shield
  • Foil blanket
  • Clothing scissors
  • Safety pins
  • Hydrogel dressings
  • Burn treatment
  • Further information on the immediate treatment of burns

Whether you need a small, medium or large first aid kit depends on the level of risk in your kitchen and how many staff you have. Most kitchens are considered high hazard environments.

If you have five or more staff then you will probably need a medium-sized first aid kit or bigger.

There are many pre-made first aid kits available on the market designed specifically for commercial kitchens. Take a look at catering supply specialist Nisbets for some HSE compliant first aid kits in small, medium and large sizes.

A convenient solution to your first aid kit needs.

Catering liability insurance UK - perfect for your mobile catering business

Several smashed plates on the ground

Alongside such safety precautions, taking out the right catering liability insurance UK is an essential part of setting up your business.

This insurance can protect you and your business and comes in three options: public liability, product liability and employers liability.

Here at Mobilers, our team of insurance specialists can provide catering liability insurance tailored to your business and its changing needs.

Call us on 01384 429 903 or request a free quote for catering liability insurance UK today.

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