Extreme heat has become a way of life in recent summers. The past seven years have been the seven hottest years on record. Further, the number of heat waves each year have tripled since the 1960s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Those already-high temperatures skyrocket in a busy restaurant kitchen. Hot temperatures are not only dangerous for older workers but a drain on productivity. In a recent article in The Washington Post, Chad Asplund, a sports medicine physician and the executive director for the U.S. Council for Athletes’ Health, said there are similarities between athletes and minimum-wage workers when it comes to pushing physical boundaries in the heat. “I have seen studies that demonstrate that errors for indoor workers start going up 1 percent at every degree above 77 degrees, and that once you get higher than 92 degrees, you start losing your productivity,” he said. While the restaurant industry lacks regulations when it comes to managing heat in foodservice kitchens, expect that to change as more parts of the U.S. experience unseasonably high temperatures – and think now about how you may need to adapt your business to provide relief, in the form of breaks and substitute staff.
New safety standards are in the pipeline that could impact your procedures and the frequency of inspections for back-of-house workers exposed to dangerous heat. In response to increased episodes of record-breaking outdoor temperatures in recent months, the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) is drafting new standards for restaurant kitchens in an effort to encourage practices like having cold water readily accessible, providing breaks to allow workers to cool off, and helping new workers to gradually build a tolerance to heat, Restaurant Business reports. While the final rules won’t become regulations for a number of months, expect an increase in inspections that cover these practices in the meantime.