Working at a part-time job after school and on the weekends at a fast-food restaurant has practically become a rite of passage in our country. Unfortunately, too many teens fail to go through this rite unscathed and suffer serious workplace injuries.
In one of the only studies of its kind, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found in 1999 that roughly 44,800 injuries occur each year among teens ages 14 to 17 who are working in the restaurant industry. Out of those injuries, the majority (63 percent, or 28,000) are suffered by teens who work in fast-food restaurants, according to NIOSH.
A NIOSH study found that 28,000 injuries occur annually among teens ages 14 to 17 who work in the fast-food industry. The injuries occurred in:
|Restaurant type||Pct of injuries|
You can read more about this study at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
Even though burns from hot grease and injuries from falling on wet or greasy floors are the leading types of injuries, according to NIOSH, there are many other types of injuries that teen fast-food workers can suffer, including cuts from using knives or slicers, strains from lifting items, exposure to harmful chemicals such as cleaning solvents and – although rare – harm from robberies or acts of violence.
Because working at a fast-food restaurant is fast-paced and involves handling multiple tasks, a teen worker may be exposed repetitively to one or more of these injury risks throughout the course of a standard shift.
To help teens navigate their way safely through the kitchen and other parts of a fast-food restaurant, we present the following “Danger Zones,” including the risks they present and how teens and their employers can avoid them.
Kitchen floors can become wet and greasy and present a slip-and-fall hazard. Spilled food, dropped kitchen utensils and scattered boxes can be tripped on as well.
As a worker, you can eliminate these risks by being vigilant about keeping the kitchen floor free of clutter, sweeping regularly and mopping up spills (making sure the surface is dry when finished with the mop).
Employers can help, too, by enforcing rules about cleaning up spills and providing incentives for keeping the floors clean. A restaurant may also install slip-resistant flooring or even provide kitchen workers with non-slip shoes.
Burns can occur from hot grease splashing onto your arms and legs while cooking food or cleaning out the fryer. These burn injuries are entirely preventable.
First and foremost, your employer should properly train you on how to use and clean fryers. For instance, you should always:
- Wear appropriate clothing, including a long-sleeve shirt and pants.
- Put food in the basket first and then gently place the basket in the oil.
- Only use one basket at a time.
- Keep water and ice away from the fryer.
- Wait until the oil has cooled before you strain it or empty the fryer.
Also, you should never:
- Reach for an item that causes you to hang over the fryer.
- Store any items above the fryer that could fall into the oil.
- Clean the fryer without first checking whether it is off, and the oil has cooled.
An employer must make sure that safety protocol is strictly followed when it comes to use of fryers. The risks and severity of injuries is just way too high.
Dicing, chopping and slicing food are common kitchen tasks. However, these tasks are a common cause of serious hand and wrist injuries.
A worker should be properly trained on how to use a knife or slicer machine safely. Any worker who is under age 15 is required by law to stay away from these tasks altogether.
Certain steps help to reduce the risks of cuts. For example, a worker should only use a flat, stable surface and cut in a motion away from the fingers and hands. A slicer should also have an emergency stop button.
There should also be first-aid equipment available and protocol in place for responding to a cut (or, for that matter, a burn as well).
Many strains and sprains can occur from trying to lift heavy items such as boxes of food, pots and pans. Like the main kitchen area, the storage room may also have a slippery surface.
It is crucial that teens be trained on how to lift items safely and never be allowed to try lifting more than they can handle. Steps and ladders that are in good condition should be provided. The storage area should be well lit and routinely swept and mopped.
An employer should take seriously any teen employee’s complaint of a strain from lifting and not allow the teen to continue performing those tasks until he or she gets proper medical attention.
By keeping a kitchen clean, injury risks can be eliminated. However, sometimes the act of cleaning is dangerous. Workers can suffer burns from cleaning solvents, inhale hazardous chemical fumes or leave floors wet and slippery.
Teen workers should be taught to never mix certain chemicals. They should be provided with rubber gloves, boots, masks and other appropriate gear (depending on what chemicals are used). They should always use “Wet Floor” signs to warn others when a floor is being mopped.
Unfortunately, fast-food restaurants are a common target of criminals. A teen working at a cash register could be the victim of a robber armed with a gun or other dangerous weapon.
A teen worker should be instructed on how to react calmly and as safely as possible to these situations. Of course, employers can also take steps to deter crime by installing security cameras and making sure locks and other security devices are activated once the restaurant is closed for business.
Can an Injured Teen Receive Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
Even though a teen may be a part-time worker, a teen injured on the job in a fast-food restaurant has as much right to seek workers’ compensation benefits as an adult, full-time worker.
In addition to getting prompt medical treatment, an injured teen should immediately report an injury to his or her employer and seek assistance right away from an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.