Teaching the basics of knife safety, non-COVID-19 related PPE, lifting and climbing, and the importance of call outs. Part one of a two-part series.
By Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE
This article is written for instructors at all levels virtually teaching professional-level culinary classes, whether fully virtual or a hybrid model.
There are two major types of safety issues in a commercial kitchen. One is food safety, and these are Serve Safe requirements. (Read Food Safety Basics on how to teach this subject in 50 minutes.) The second type is kitchen safety or personal safety, which is often referred to as OSHA safety. Many students confuse the two. The purpose of practicing food safety is making sure the people who eat food are safe from food-borne illnesses. The purpose of OSHA safety is to keep the people working in the foodservice business safe from getting injured or even killed. OSHA safety rules apply to everyone from owners to managers and from the front to the back of the house.
The importance of OSHA safety is becoming more recognized throughout all levels of foodservice establishments. Its significance was stressed primarily in large corporate dining, hospital, and hotel kitchens and driven by Worker’s Compensation Insurance. Recently, for insurance and other reasons, the emphasis on keeping everyone safe is spreading. Even many small independent restaurants are watching OSHA safety issues closely and providing safety training.
You probably teach OSHA safety in your classroom kitchens by example and by teachable moments, for example pointing out unsafe incidents when they happen. This is too haphazard. There is no way you can cover key points in this way. (OSHA safety needs to be taught whether you are teaching in-person or virtually. And, if you are teaching virtually you need to make sure students practice it in their home kitchens while taking your course.)
Students find this subject of little interest. They want to cook and not hear about how to lift things or do kitchen call outs. You need to explain that if they work in corporate dining, hospitals, country clubs or large multi-unit restaurants, they will be expected to know basic OSHA kitchen safety requirements and follow them without being monitored. For many of these places, even a first violation of safety rules can get you terminated.
Below is a brief primer on the OSHA safety issues you should be teaching--whether students are in your class kitchen or you are virtually teaching. There is no particular order of importance. All are important.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE was not a common phrase before March 2020. COVID-19 or not, there are several pieces of PPE and gear your students should be using for your class at home.
- Non-slip Shoes. More and more kitchens are not letting people, including guests and vendors, into the space unless they have non-slip shoes. There are many types of non-slip shoes available but the best for your students are the ones designed and manufactured for kitchens. Why? The shoes are more water and oil resistant not only on the sole but on the top as well.
- Cut Gloves. More and more foodservice businesses are requiring cut gloves. This is being driven by Worker’s Compensation insurance companies. In fact, many kitchens are requiring the person using the cut glove to wear a disposable glove on top because you can’t readily wash cut gloves. I recommend you have your students practice this periodically. It is hard enough for a recent graduate to go into a kitchen and start doing professional knife cuts as it is. Now, in many establishments they need to do this wearing two gloves. If you haven’t tried it, believe me it is a different skill set.
- Chef Pants. Baggy chef pants are designed to be easily removed in the event of a major spill of things like simmering pasta sauce or hot oil. For minor spills, their baggy nature allows them to be easily lifted off the skin. Imagine what would happen if your students spilled hot oil on their thighs if they were wearing torn jeans, yoga pants or even shorts.
- Chef Coats. Chef coats are double-breasted for a few reasons and one involves OSHA safety. There cannot be any exposed undergarments or skin if a coat is double-breasted. I don’t understand short-sleeve chef coats. One of my most serious burns happened when I was wearing one. An oven door swung shut on my entire arm. My arm under the coat was fine, but the part from wrist to elbow was badly burned. I have seen similar issues with people using fryers and kettles.
Knife safety is usually taught with basic knife skills. However, you need to monitor the students and constantly reinforce the rules.
- Knives that are not in active use should be in a tool kit, knife bag, guard or on a rack, and not laying around.
- Generally, knives should not be left laying haphazardly on cutting boards. A knife should either be on the right side parallel to the board or horizontal at the top of the board. Some kitchens require they be in a separate container next to the board.
- ONLY carry a knife with the handle down by your side and the blade pointing backward. Do not let your students carry them in bowls, hotel pans, or on top of cutting boards. Make two trips if necessary.
- Call out when walking with a knife. (See below)
- Hold the knife correctly.
- Do not use a kitchen knife for opening boxes, cans, or bottles.
- A knife is not to be waved around while talking with your hands or used as a pointer. It is amazing to me how often I had to correct students on this issue.
- Never put your knife in a bus tub or at the bottom of a sink.
- When cutting watch what you are cutting and your hands. Do not look around.
- Never pass a knife to someone. Put the knife down and let the other person pick it up.
Lifting and climbing
- We all know to lift with the legs and not with the back. Is it being practiced?
- Try not to lift above or below your body’s core. For kitchen purposes, this is primarily a storage issue.
- Many Worker’s Compensation carriers mandate specific weights that can be carried or lifted by one person. From what I understand, quite a few require 40-pound limits. This requires two people to lift many standard kitchen packages (e.g., onions, all-purpose flour, etc.) It is difficult to do this with COVID-19 restrictions. One resolution is to break down the package into small containers. For example, put half the onions from the bag into two Cambro containers and then carry each individually.
- Many kitchens require a spotter is present when using ladders or even a step stool. Again, a tough issue with COVID-19.
- Mats are designed to provide support when standing in one place for a long time and to help prevent slips and falls. Make sure they are clean, dry, and lying flat. Also, make sure mats butt against each other as open spaces mean people can trip on uneven surfaces.
Letting others know about something happening or coming by is required in most kitchens. The most common include:
- ‘Oven Opening’ to keep people from walking into a hot oven door.
- ‘Corner’ indicating you are walking around a corner so someone on the other side cannot be in the way.
- ‘Hot’ meaning you are carrying something hot.
- ‘Knife’ meaning you are carrying a knife while walking through the kitchen.
- ‘Behind’ meaning you are walking behind someone.
- Note, it would be common to use several together. For example, ‘Hot, Behind You.’
I know many cooks think that call outs are obnoxious. One of my friends thought they were the most stupid thing in a cook’s world until she ended up with third-degree burns after having a heavy pot of boiling water knocked all over her shoulders, neck and chest when she turned around on the line. The person carrying the pot thought, like my friend, that call outs were stupid.
Next month I will continue with teaching OSHA safety. Subjects will include how to safely clean up spills and what to do when encountering a new piece of equipment. (Spoiler alert: Don’t break it or hurt yourself.) I will also discuss preventing heat exhaustion, handling carts and speed racks, burns, basic fire issues, and touch on evacuations.
Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE, has been a culinary instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 16 years.