With heavy workloads, irregular hours and a prevalence of temporary positions, the hotel, restaurant and catering (HORECA) sector is a challenge in terms of occupational safety and health. The sector covers a wide range of different businesses including hotels, pubs and restaurants, contract caterers in various industrial and commercial premises, fast-food takeaways, cafes and bistros.
It plays an important role as a job creator in the service sector and in the economy as a whole in many EU Member States. Employing as it does more than 7.8 million people, it is important to manage the risks and prevent the causes of accidents and ill health.
The sector is one of the fastest growing in Europe. The overwhelming majority of businesses are small, employing less than 10 people. Women make up a little over half of the workforce. (Eurofound 2005: ‘Hotels and catering – policies, issues and the future’).
Jobs tend to be temporary, with irregular hours, low pay and few career prospects. There is a high proportion of young people working in the sector. Characteristics of the sector which can have a negative impact on occupational safety and health (OSH) are:
- heavy workloads
- prolonged standing and static postures
- contact with (sometimes difficult) customers
- high levels of evening and weekend working, which disrupt an employee’s work-life balance
- high levels of stress
- monotonous work
- harassment and even violence from customers, colleagues and employers
- discrimination against women and people from other countries.
Employers have a legal and moral duty to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. There are also financial incentives: losing a valued worker to injury can be bad for business, but it also costs money to recruit and train a replacement.
Slips, trips and falls are the most common cause of accidents in the sector, especially in kitchens. They are mainly caused by surfaces made slippery by water, food waste or oil. Wearing the wrong footwear compounds the danger. Walking too fast or running, distractions and a failure to use handrails on stairways also increase risk. Slicers, mincers, mixers and knives are widely used in professional kitchens. Most injuries in the kitchen are cuts, either from using the implements or cleaning them.
Many activities in the sector involve manual handling: lifting full pots and pans and dishwasher trays, carrying piles of plates, bending into deep fat fryers to clean them and vacuuming. Injuries may happen as a result of only one serious incident, but more often they are a result of stress and strain over a long period. Lifting and carrying heavy items is a major cause of back pain, while forceful or repetitive activities and poor posture are linked to upper limb injuries.
Health and Safety in the hotel, restaurant and catering sector is important to many people.
The hotel, restaurant and catering industry is one of the major job creators in Europe, employing nearly 8 million people. This highlights the importance of adequate safety and health management and risk prevention for occupational accidents and diseases in the sector.
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