University kitchen case study

The tasks

Workers in the kitchens were required to perform many different tasks during their working day. The tasks involved preparing food, taking food to the distribution area for waitresses to take to customers, washing pots and pans and cleaning cooking equipment.

Musculoskeletal risks

Workers in the kitchens performed many tasks, which posed a risk of musculoskeletal discomfort to the employees. Aches and pains experienced by employees were not reported due to employees not being aware that their discomfort felt may have been related to work. Employees often thought that their discomfort was related to their age with comments such as "when you get to my stage in life you have to expect to the odd twinge or ache".
The musculoskeletal risks for this type of work were:

  • Lifting Heavy items – heavy pots, pans, pushing and pulling of trolleys laden with food etc.
  • Repetitive Tasks – repetitive lifting, lowering and carrying of food, products, trays, pot and pans and repetitive actions such as buttering, cutting and slicing of bread and other food items.
  • Poor working postures – Forward leaning postures when cleaning pots and pans in the sink. Twisting of the upper body when reaching into ovens for cleaning purposes. Awkward postures adopted when retrieving items from shelving.
  • Force – Large force requirements to clean pots, pans and ovens etc.

How were the musculoskeletal risks reduced?

Management observed employees performing their tasks and involved employees in identifying the tasks that they felt were the most arduous. Involving employees in the risk assessment process is vital as employees have first-hand knowledge and an almost unique understanding about the particular aspects of the tasks that they perform.  

Lifting heavy items

Employees were informed to use only those pans that were necessary for the product. Employees had been unnecessarily using the larger pot and pans for cooking a small amount of food.

Employees were informed not to carry pots and pans that were full of products (food, water for cleaning etc.) but to use a trolley to move the pans around the kitchen area.

Staff had reported problems when cleaning the pots and pans in the sink. Products were required to be scrubbed clean of food residue before the pots and pans were placed into the dishwasher. Staff were required to hold the pots and pans to the tap whilst filling them with water and detergent. Once the pots and pans began to fill with liquid employees found it arduous to hold the pots and pans under the tap. Management installed a 'water jet sprayer' (see below) so that staff could apply water to the required area of the pan without having to hold the pan under the tap.

There was a lot of repetitive carrying of loads too and from the food storeroom and the food preparation area. Employees would carry numerous items of product from the stores to prevent them making a number of trips backwards and forwards. Therefore management installed chilled food storage facilities within the food preparation area and therefore the repetitive lifting and carrying of loads from the food storeroom was eliminated.

Furthermore, management redesigned the sandwich preparation area so that items to fill the sandwiches were held in containers on the preparation area. This again prevented numerous trips to the food storeroom.

Employees reported discomfort when loading the dishwasher with the heavier pots and pans. This was due to the fact that the employees were required to reach into the dishwasher to place the pots and pans at the rear of the dishwasher. Holding loads away from the body places greater bio-mechanical stress on the lower back. Due to other problems with the dishwasher management decided to replace the dishwasher and purchase one in which the tray to hold the pots and pans can be pulled towards the employee so therefore the requirement to lean and stretch into the dishwasher while supporting a heavy load was eliminated.

Management also noticed that employees were regularly placing loads down and picking them up again to open the oven/storeroom doors. Management replaced the handles of the doors with ones that can be readily opened with the employees elbow and therefore a substantial amount of the manual lifting and lowering was eliminated.

Reducing repetitive actions

The inclusion of chilled food storage facilities within the food preparation area reduced many of the repetitive carrying tasks too and from the food storeroom.

Staff and management set up a job rotation system so that employees are not performing the same task for the entire working day. For example, staff would spend a few hours working in the sandwich preparation area and the move to a different task therefore reducing the employees' exposure to the risk factors associated with sandwich preparation (for example continual bending and twisting of the wrist when buttering the bread)

Improving working posture

From discussions with employees it was established that washing pots and pans for an extended period of time caused them aches and pains, particularly in the lower back. From observing the employees performing the task it was established that the aches and pains were due to employees adopting a forward leaning posture over the sink and placing bio-mechanical stress on their lower back.   

The sink had an unnecessarily large protruding front edge that management were required to reach over in order to access and clean the pots and pans in the sink. The sink was replaced with one with a narrow front edge so that employees could position their body closer to the sink and therefore eliminate the need to bend forward to access the sink.

Cleaning the glass inside ovens caused the employees to adopt a twisting posture to access all side of the inside of the cooker. This was a particularly arduous task which few employees wished to undertake. Management replaced the ovens with ones in which the glass interior was attached with a hinge and therefore when it required cleaning staff swung the glass interior out of the oven and cleaned it whilst maintaining an neutral posture. 

A review of the shelving highlighted that items that were regularly used were being stored in difficult to reach positions that caused employees to adopt poor postures in order to reach into the shelves and retrieve the items. Therefore management reviewed all of the items and placed the most commonly used items in the most accessible positions ie on shelves at waist height and within easy reach. Shelves were then labelled so that items were not stored elsewhere.

It was also noticed that gaining access to floor standing cupboards caused employees to crouch down and reach into the cupboard therefore placing pressure on their knees. All floor-standing cupboards were removed and replaced with drawers that easily slid out for employees to gain access.

Reducing force

Employees informed management that scrubbing pots and pans prior to being placed into the dishwasher proved to be arduous. Therefore, management bought new strong bristled scrubbing brushes to reduce the amount of force required to remove baked food stuck to the pots. A sufficient number of spare scrubbing brushes were also purchased so that the ones being used could easily be replaced once they had become less effective due to use.

The dishwasher included a door that had to be pushed upwards in order to place items into it. Over the years of use the door had become stiff due to age and poor condition. Staff reported that it was particularly difficult to open the door and a large amount of force in an upward direction was required to open it. The new dishwasher has a pull down door that is well maintained and that requires minimal force to open it.

Management also undertook a maintenance review of all cupboard and storeroom doors. The door to the chilled food storeroom regularly became stiff and difficult to open due to the necessity to maintain the temperature of the products inside. A special hinge was fitted to the door and the door was counter balanced so that it opened and closed with minimal force.

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Updated 2011-06-01