Last updated: 24.02.20

Common hazards to look out for in a catering kitchen

It is no secret that kitchens are full of hazards. But with the hectic nature of a kitchen, especially school kitchens, which often open early and cater quickly for large numbers, it is easy to lose sight of what hazards can be found and how to prevent them from causing injury.

Here we have collated the major hazards and injuries and handy tips to prevent them; so whether you have recently joined a school kitchen, or are looking to improve your and your staff’s health and safety awareness, our article will provide some guidance.

Slips, Trips and Falls

Slips, trips and falls are the most common causes for major injuries in the UK workplace, with many occurring in catering and food establishments. With food and drink spillages, trip hazards, and slippery floors – the possibility of slips, trips and falls is high.

What do you need to consider?

Flooring type and condition. Assess your flooring type and condition and decide what action you need to take to make sure it is safe.

Reaction time to spillages and leaks. Due to the speed of movement in a kitchen, time cannot afford to be lost when reacting to a spill. They must be dealt with immediately.

Footwear. Make sure your footwear has appropriate grips.

Appropriate signage. If the floor is damp or unsafe, make sure to put signs out to ensure people are aware.

Manual handling

According to the HSE, 30% of injuries in the food industry are manual handling injuries, and 60% of these injuries are from lifting heavy objects. With the large volume of bags, pots and containers of food that need to be moved or lifted, you can understand why. All these movements can cause damage if you don’t follow the right procedure.

How to move a load correctly:

  1. Consider the move. Don’t rush. Consider what, how and where you are going to move something, and make sure you communicate your plan with others. This will help reduce any uncertainty that might occur during the move.
  2. Move close to the load. Before you lift it, you need to get as close as possible to the load to avoid straining your back. This may mean moving things out of the way first.
  3. Adopt a good posture. Do not twist!
  4. Use your legs to lift the load. Using your leg muscles, instead of your back muscles, will reduce the strain on your back.
  5. Transport the load. Whilst moving the load, keep your posture and don’t twist – use your feet instead.

Knife injuries

Knife injuries are caused by both blunt and sharp knives. Blunt knives don’t grip the food so are likely to slip, whereas injuries by sharp knives are usually caused by incorrect technique.

What is a proper technique?

1. Slice away from the hand that is holding the food.

2. Curl the fingers of the hand that is holding the food, so your fingertips can’t be accidentally sliced, and then keep food in place with the tips of the thumb and the forefinger.

Burns and scalds

Every cook or chef will have a burn or scald. There are many potential hazards – hot ovens, cooker tops, spattering oil or fat, naked flames, hot pots – and when they are combined with the speed of the kitchen, burns are quite likely to occur.

How can you prevent burns from occurring?

Use suitable equipment. Burns often happen when unsuitable equipment is used. Use proper equipment when handling hot items, such as oven gloves.

Wear appropriate clothing and head wear. Not only are these essential for hygiene practices, but they are essential for your safety too. If your hair or garments are loose (for example, loose sleeves), they could easily catch a flame.

Adopt safe food-handling techniques. For example, when opening containers holding hot food, open the side furthest away from you to avoid steam burns, and when you place food in a hot pan, add the ingredients so that any potential splashes are away from you.

Be mindful of others. Let it be known if you are walking behind someone with a hot pan, or if you have placed a hot pan near them, as they might not be aware.

Receive medical attention. If anyone receives a burn, it must be attended to immediately. Make sure there is a member of staff that has first aid training and don’t neglect seeing a doctor.


Fires are a major hazard in the kitchen. With hot oil, build up of fats and oils, and equipment that hasn’t been turned off – there are many causes to be aware of.

What do you need to do?

Understand your fires and fire equipment. There is potential for all types of fires – electrical, grease and paper fires – and staff need to understand how to deal with each one, including what equipment to use, as it does depend on the type of fire.

Avoid a build-up of fats or oils. Keep your cooker surfaces clean to prevent fat and oils building up.

Store flammable materials safely. Make sure that they aren’t stored anywhere that could contribute to fires.

Test your electrical equipment. Faulty electrical equipment can start fires, so make sure that testing is regularly carried out.

Employ safe cooking techniques. For example, do not neglect fat as it can set on fire, angle pan handles away from flames, and turn off equipment at the end of the day.

Overall, the best way to establish safe working practices is to carry out health and safety training. Have a look at our broad range of health and safety online training courses here, or contact us if you would like to find out more.