Chemical Safety for Food Workers

Today many people work in the preparation and service of food in hotels, restaurants and fast food outlets. Others work in catering facilities, commercial kitchens and other food service facilities, such as those in hospitals or schools.

There are a number of chemicals, which these workers may come into contact with, for example, cleaning agents such as oven cleaners and detergents. Contact with some of these chemicals can result in adverse health effects such as burns, irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, skin problems such as dermatitis and respiratory problems such as asthma.

Some of the chemicals that food service workers commonly use are listed below with their possible health effects. (Read the label in your product to check the chemical ingredients).

Oven cleaners

Chemical Ingredients

  • Sodium hydroxide(caustic soda);
  • Ethanolamine;
  • Diethylene glycol;

Potential health effects

  • Eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation
  • Skin burns from concentrated solution
  • Dermatitis from repeated contact

Floor cleaners and Dishwasher soap

Chemical Ingredients

  • Quarternary ammoniums
  • Alkaline salts ;

Potential health effects

  • Skin burns
  • Dermatitis
  • Corrosive irritation to eyes, respiratory tract and skin

Degreasers

Chemical Ingredients

  • Various organic solvents

Potential health effects

  • Eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation
  • Headaches, nausea and dizziness

Bleach

Chemical Ingredients

  • Sodium hypochlorite(can release chlorine gas)

Potential health effects

  • Eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation
  • Burns
  • Skin allergy
  • Gas is severe irritant

What action can be taken?

The NSW Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 and the NSW Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001 require employers to ensure that workers are protected from any health effects from chemicals used at work. This means providing workers with information on chemicals used, assessing any health risks and taking appropriate action in controlling any risks.

Workers can also be actively involved in making sure that they are protected:

  • Ask your supervisor about any health effects from the chemicals you use.
  • Read the label on the container and follow any safety precautions.
  • Get a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on the product – employers should store MSDS for all products in a register and make it available to all workers.
  • Store all chemicals according to instructions and seal containers when not in use.
  • Dispose of all empty containers of chemicals properly.
  • Ensure that there is good ventilation in the area that the chemical is used. Windows may need to be kept open for natural ventilation or an extraction fan may be needed to remove fumes.
  • Ensure that suitable training or advice on how to use, store, handle, dispose of the chemicals used is provided.
  • Use any personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, goggles or aprons if needed – make sure that they are the proper type and fit to provide effective protection. If you have any concerns about the chemicals you use at work, you should contact your OHS committee representative or the union delegate at work.

Useful References

NSW WorkCover Reading Labels and Material Safety Data Sheets

This Fact Sheet is courtesy of The Workers Health Centre.

More info:

Chemical Safety for Food Workers

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