2012 September: Safety First

Think of dangerous work environments. Factories might come to mind, but a restaurant can be just as dangerous. With hot ovens, knives and slick floors, your kitchen provides ample probability for minor or even major injuries.
There are nearly 200,000 non-fatal occupational injuries in food service establishments each year, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Big Dave Ostrander has analyzed kitchen safety as an operator of a successful pizzeria and as an industry consultant and trainer. Often times, Ostrander finds that “we assume that employees are never going to slip on a slippery floor, they are never going to accidentally come in contact with a hot surface or a sharp knife. Thus, you bear your scars and I bear mine.”

Training is the most vital component of kitchen safety. When confronted with hazardous situations, Ostrander says, “If your employees don’t know what to do, shame on you.”
Ostrander elicited the help of fellow operator Michael Shepherd, who owns Michael Angelo’s Pizza with two locations in Kenton and Rushsylvania, Ohio. Each came up with his own strategies and procedures to address kitchen safety specifically.

Shepherd has created a complete training course about each dangerous piece of equipment, proper lifting, knife skills, chemicals and fire extinguishers with manuals, videos and tests. A local company helped transfer everything online a few years ago and assists with testing.

Michael Angelo’s employees spend six to eight hours in front of the computer with company policy, kitchen safety and food safety modules before they are allowed into the kitchen. They also must pass tests in each area with multiple choice, true or false and essay questions.
Ostrander also tested his staff. At Big Dave’s, new employees had 10 weeks to pass his training. He says the employee could take it as many times as it took until the 10th week and they had to score 80 percent or they were let go. By testing, Ostrander says: “They just simply can’t fake it.”
Ostrander says there are three key kitchen injuries to focus your training: cuts, falls and burns.
Let’s examine each injury. Ostrander and Shepherd provide the following preventative tips for cuts, falls and burns:

Cuts. Teach knife skills. “There is a way to rock your knife and you can get a lot of work out of a knife effortlessly and quickly,” says Ostrander, who chopped 25 gallons of onions every day during his first job in the business.
The skills go beyond just using the knife but also handing it to another person. “There is only one way to pass a knife,” Ostrander says. “That’s hand to hand and eye to eye and you have to say ‘thank you.’ It tells the passer that you got it.”
Never place sharp objects into the sink, including knifes and slicer blades. At locations that have a dishwasher, Shepherd instituted a policy that all sharp objects must be washed in the dishwasher.

Michael Shepherd, owner of Michael Angelo’s Pizza in Kenton, Ohio, offers the following approaches to kitchen safety:
You have to idiot-proof everything. Make things simplistic. You cannot underestimate how easily an employee can get hurt.
Build some kind of safety plan or safety training plan, whether it is super simple or really in-depth. It could be as simple as here is my three-page written plan on how I am going to train every employee and then I am going to document that they have been trained and they are going to sign off.
Make sure you provide the necessary tools to do the things safely. You have to provide them what they need and make sure they are using it.

Wash all cutting utensils immediately after use. Regardless of how busy Michael Angelo’s is, the policy stands. Take the tomato slicer, Shepherd says. After a few hours, juice and seeds stick to the blades, requiring someone to hand scrub blades and posing a risk of a cut.
Never compress trash with your hand. Another good tip for trash, Shepherd says, is to use a two- or four-wheel cart to transport trash to the dumpster.
Falls. Make everyone wear anti-slip shoes. “We give a spending allowance of $30 towards the shoes,” Shepherd says. “That has eliminated about 99 percent of all of the slips and falls.”
Put down anti-fatigue mats in main areas, especially splash areas like dishwashing stations and stoves.
In Addition, Ostrander says mats must always be in their designated location. “We never work without them under our feet,” he says. If they need cleaned, choose a time when the kitchen is not in use.
Clean up all spills immediately. “You can never walk around a spill,”
Ostrander says.

Burns. Supply hot pads. Having the right holders in place will help employees resist the temptation to grab a damp rag, which can seriously scold skin.
Communicate when you are passing by the oven. “If someone is passing by the ovens, they have to announce that they are coming through so they don’t get a peel in the face,” Shepherd says.
If a hot object is falling, let it go. There is a natural tendency to grab something that is falling. In the case of a hot pizza or pan, Ostrander says, let it fall. You can always remake the product.

There are other kitchen safety rules to which Ostrander and Shepherd recommend strict adherence. Follow all OSHA and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) guidelines for chemicals.
Ostrander says, when it comes to your equipment, never override safety systems put in by the manufacturer. He sees this happen with mixers. People will remove the safety cage to gain speed. Not only will your insurer not cover the equipment, but also you’ve put your employees at risk.
Many injuries result from employee conduct. Never allow horseplay. Shepherd has a zero-tolerance policy for horseplay at Michael Angelo’s. “It shows really bad judgment,” he says. “If they are willing to do that, what else are they willing to do.”
Kitchen safety boils down to training. “Going through all of the what ifs and training, you are doing your staff a major favor,” Ostrander says. “You are saving yourself a lot of stress down the line because it’s a matter of it’s going to happen sooner or later.” u
Denise Greer is the associate editor of Pizza Today.

WORD OF WISDOM

Michael Shepherd, owner of Michael Angelo’s Pizza in Kenton, Ohio, offers the following approaches to kitchen safety:

You have to idiot- proof everything. Make things sim- plistic. You cannot underestimate how easily an employee can get hurt.
Build some kind of safety plan or safety training plan, whether it is super simple or really in- depth. It could be as simple as here is my three-page written plan on how I am go- ing to train every employee and then I am going to document that they have been trained and they are going to sign off.
Make sure you provide the neces- sary tools to do the things safely. You have to provide them what they need and make sure they are using it.

Denise Greer is the associate editor of Pizza Today.

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