Health and safety risks common to the food and beverage services industry

The Australian food services industry is an integral contributor to the Australian economy, spawning $50.51 billion in 20211. It comprises of cafes, restaurants, takeaways, pubs, bars and other businesses that sells meals, snacks and beverages. The industry experienced a plunge during the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic, due to restrictions and forced closing of dine-in services. However home deliveries and take-aways played a significant role during this period, and partially cushioned the fall in income. Since then the food industry has recovered its revenue and is expected to grow by 6% over the next 5 years1.

Common health and safety risks

Safety hazards which are common to the food services industry include:

  • Hot liquids, surfaces or steam
  • Cuts and sharp surfaces
  • Manual handling
  • Working with chemicals and cleaning
  • Fatigue and shift work
  • Workplace violence (such as robbery) and dealing with the public

Working with heat

Burns and scalds are common injuries in the food industry as workers are at risk when cooking or removing food from hot elements such as ovens, deep friers, grillers as well as expresso machines and urns.

Manual handling

Any tasks that requires a worker to use force to move, lift, lower, push, pull, carry or restrain an object has the potential to cause a manual handling injury. The injury may be from a ‘one-off’ event (where a significant force is involved) but is more often the result of stress and strain over a long period of time (even when the force involved is small).

Repetitive movements such as moving items to and from the dishwasher is a manual handling risk

Young and vulnerable workers

From a health and safety perspective, the food services industry is of concern as it frequently employs vulnerable workers, such as:

  • Young workers
  • Part-time and casual workers, and
  • Culturally and linguistically diverse workers.

Vulnerable workers are usually unaware of work, health and safety laws and how it applies to their duties, which makes them more at risk of suffering injuries in the workplace. Food services employers need to be mindful of their staff and watch out for the presence of vulnerable workers in their employment.

Young workers are more at risk of getting injured at work due to inexperience

Preventing injuries in the workplace

Since every food services workplace is different, employers need to put in place a Work, Health and Safety (WHS) Management system to assess the hazards specific to their business and put in place controls to manage risks.


As part of their WHS Management System food services employers need to ensure all employees, especially young and vulnerable workers, have appropriate induction, task specific training and supervision to ensure work is done safely. Safe work procedures should be given for areas where injuries commonly occur, such as working with heat, manual handling tasks and working with knives and other sharp objects.

The induction provided should:

  • Explain the health and safety management system, policies and procedures that apply in the workplace
  • Show workers how to work safely as well as recognise hazards on the job
  • Ensure workers understand how to raise concerns they may have about health and safety
  • Help workers become familiar with the workplace environment.

All new employees need to have a safety induction training


Before commencing their duties, employers should make sure that their workers have demonstrated competence in their task and are provided with the necessary equipment and protective gear, such as safety footwear, protective clothes and gloves.

Encountering hostile customers



Unfortunately dealing with angry or difficult customers is an unavoidable reality when working in customer service. As part of their WHS Management System, employers should train staff in safe procedures for handling difficult customers. This include procedures on:

  • How to practice active listening techniques – Rather than immediately focussing on solving the problem, focus first on what the customer is saying. Let the customer have their say and do not try to argue or talk over them. Sometimes when a customer is in the middle of an angry outburst, it is natural to want to jump in to provide an explanation or solution. However, these interruptions are likely to further inflame the customer.
  • How to not get angry and not to take the situation personally – If a customer is being abusive, never get angry and do not response in kind. Always speak to the issue at hand and do not get personal, even if the customer does. Look upon their complaint as a feedback to the business that needs to be addressed and not as a personal comment.
  • Practicing scenarios of keeping calm during a stressful situation – This can help staff to practice procedures in a safe environment, so that they can then apply their training naturally when the real situation occurs.

Managing safety with ease

The success of any food services business depends on the unity of people, process and systems. Having a robust safety management system will ensure employees are aware of common hazards associated with their roles and are trained to work safely to avoid potentially detrimental injuries. The greatest asset of any business is its people, and your business will be in a good position for growth if you place employee wellbeing right in the centre. 



“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees,

they will take care of the clients.” – Sir Richard Branson.




  1. Global Data, 2022, Australia Foodservice Market Size and Trends by Profit and Cost Sector Channels, Consumers, Locations, Key Players, and Forecast, 2021-20’, report code GDCS01043FD,, accessed 21 October 2022.