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Ask an officer: Reducing the risk of heat stress in restaurants

Published on: June 19, 2023

WorkSafeBC occupational hygiene officer Michael Song is spreading the word that heat stress poses a real danger to indoor workers, too.

Michael Song

Occupational hygiene officer, Vancouver/Richmond
Years on the job: 24

How does heat stress affect restaurant and kitchen workers?

Indoor workers can be as vulnerable to heat stress as people who work out in the sun. Restaurant and kitchen staff are surrounded by radiant heat sources — like ovens and fryers — often in spaces with no air conditioning. The work is physical and tends to be busiest at the warmest times of the day. Add to that recent record-high temperatures, and restaurant and kitchen workers are really feeling the heat.

How can I recognize signs of heat stress in my staff?

At first, workers may feel fatigued, dizzy, irritable, or clumsy, or they may find it difficult to focus — all of which can lead to accidents. They may even lose consciousness and faint which, in a kitchen full of hot surfaces and sharp objects, is especially dangerous.

Are some of my staff more susceptible than others?

Heat stress affects everyone differently as personal factors can play a role. These factors include fitness and hydration levels, conditioning of the body to hot environments, and medical conditions. The short duration of our typical heat waves in the summer makes this a challenge. Part-time workers — who account for over half of the food and beverage sector — will take longer to get used to working around radiant heat sources. Young and new workers are less likely to speak up when they feel unsafe, which could put them at greater risk of succumbing to heat stress.

What piqued WorkSafeBC's interest in heat stress in the hospitality industry?

While indoor heat stress isn't a new concern (foundries, boiler rooms, pulp and paper mills, industrial laundries, and cement plants have long been on our radar), hospitality hasn't typically been considered an at-risk industry. During the heat dome last summer, though, about one-third of our calls were restaurant-related. This prompted us to look at how these workers are affected.

What should I be doing to keep my staff safe?

Educate your employees on the early signs of heat stress and follow four basic steps to managing risk. First, understand the risk by performing a risk assessment that identifies high-risk areas and activities. Next, implement control measures to control the risk. Third, ensure you train workers on the signs of heat stress and the controls you've put in place; education is key to avoiding heat stress. Last, managing risk is an ongoing process, so monitor the effectiveness of control measures in place and make any needed adjustments. Keep in mind there may be no single solution, but different ways to effectively address risk factors by following the hierarchy of controls.

Encourage your workers to let you know if they feel it's unsafe to work, especially those young and new workers who are less likely to speak up when they feel unsafe. Let them know you value their well-being by involving them in identifying solutions and welcoming suggestions to minimize their exposure to heated environments.

Where can I get more information?

Learn more on our Heat stress webpage or download our Preventing Heat Stress at Work booklet. In addition, you'll find some useful ideas on our Enhancing health & safety culture & performance webpage for building a positive health and safety culture in your workplace.

This information originally appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of WorkSafe Magazine. To read more or to subscribe, visit WorkSafe Magazine.

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