Basic Kitchen Ergonomics

This post is meant as a general guide to help anyone who needs information on making commercial or institutional kitchens a safer place to work. As we, all know there is often a dramatic difference between the customer and client sections of a facility and the kitchen area. 


A significant source of injury for kitchen workersalong with lacerations, burns, slips, trips, and fallsare back and upper extremity muscle strains, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and other musculoskeletal injuries.


Recognizing risk factors that contribute to the development of musculoskeletal injuries and developing effective strategies to reduce them has a positive impact on reducing these injuries. The risk factors include forceful exertion, repetitive motion, awkward postures, static postures, and contact stress.


Early detection, reporting and treatment of musculoskeletal injuries is crucial to control the potential severe effects of this particular class of injury. Injuries treated in the early stages have a better chance of healing properly. Later stage musculoskeletal injuries may not heal completely but effects can be minimized if dealt with properly.


General controls for each of the identified risk factors include:


Forceful Exertions:

  • Good body mechanics can decrease muscle force needed to carry out job tasks, which reduces the risk of developing a musculoskeletal injury.
  • Teach workers to test loads before lifting and to plan routes before lifting and carrying the load. Use good lifting technique for lifting, lowering, and carrying loads.
  • Separate heavier loads into smaller load quantities, or containers. Can heavier bulk items be purchased in smaller load quantities, or containers?
  • Make use of adjunct equipment such as hoists, dollies, or conveyers to reduce the workloads. Install wheels on containers, wherever possible to allow pushing rather than lifting, carrying, or dragging. (Keep the wheels clean and in good working order)
  • Avoid reaching below mid-thigh height, and above shoulder height.
  • Place or store the heaviest items at mid height to make lifting easier, and eliminate lifting heavy items from the floor. Avoid simply placing the heavy items on the floor or bottom shelf.
  • Avoid lifting or carrying items that are slippery, too hot, or unevenly balanced.

Repetitive Motion: Repetitive motion for upper arms, elbows, forearms, and wrists can be defined as more than 10 reps per minute or for shoulders, more than 2.5 reps per minute.

  • Minimize wherever possible repetitive motion to help reduce the worker’s risk of developing a musculoskeletal injury.
  • Use mechanical or automated devices (food processors, potato peeling machines, and electrical mixers)
  • Alternate working positions to avoid overusing any single muscle or muscle group. Alternate hands used to perform simple tasks.
  • Try to combine or eliminate tasks whenever possible. Pace the work when performing repetitive motion tasks.
  • Include job rotation, stretching, frequent rest periods, and task breaks.

Awkward Postures:

  • Move the body closer to the object, or move the object closer to the worker. Do not reach beyond the point of comfort.
  • Wherever possible avoid excessive torso flexion by storing items between knee and shoulder height.
  • Always face the objects you are working on, do not twist and reach behind or to the sides of the body.
  • Work tasks should be adjusted to keep elbows as close to the body as possible.
  • If the work is too high, lower the work, or raise the worker by a platform or footstool.
  • Sit on a stool or chair rather than squatting, kneeling, or bending over while you work.
  • Use tools or hand implements designed to keep wrists straight. For example, grill flippers with bent raised handles.
  • Counter height should be a few centimeters below the worker’s elbow height.
  • Shelf height should not be higher than shoulder height of the shortest worker. If necessary, provide stepstools.
  • Place frequently used items in the most accessible locations. Place frequently used and heavier items 11 to17 inches from the workers. Place infrequently used and lighter items 21 to 25 inches from the workers.
  • Wherever possible, move trip items or obstacles out of the way.

Static Postures:

Static posture can be defined as body positions held without movement for more than 10 seconds.

  • Anti-fatigue matting can provide a softer surface to stand on. Use non-slip surfaces and anti-fatigue mats to prevent slippage. Consider where the matting will be used and purchase the appropriate style and type for the particular applications.
  • Footstools allow workers to raise a foot up, which helps shift body weight and reduces stress on the legs and lower back when standing for long periods.
  • Sit-stand stools can allow workers to alternate sitting and standing positions. Sit-stand stools are most appropriate when the worker does not have to reach too far.
  • Footwear should fit properly and have anti-slip soles. Consider the following:
    • Does the footwear have enough grip?
    • What type of flooring is in the kitchen?
    • Is the footwear durable?
    • Is there adequate ankle protection?
    • What is the kitchen temperature range?
    • What types of hazards exist and type of footwear selected? For example, what about puncture, burn protection, and crush protection?
    • Evaluate the frequency of when the footwear needs replacement. Over time the soles will deteriorate, and the mid-sole will breakdown and lose the cushioning capabilities.

Contact Stress: 

  • Add padding to sharp edges to reduce stress on the hands. For example, knife handles scissors, carts, bins, and countertops.
  • Workers should avoid leaning against sharp edges or metal surfaces. Bevel or round off sharp edges on tables, ledges, and shelves.