Poor kitchen layouts and working practices are forcing many catering staff to live and work in pain, according to research by public sector union Unison.
Its survey of about 200 staff in school and university kitchens revealed that 49% had suffered pain in the previous week and a staggering 77% had experienced "significant pain" in the previous 12 months.
Symptoms were so acute that more than half had to seek medical help. Key problems included pains in the shoulders, lower back, knees, wrists and ankles.
Hope Daley, Unison's senior national health and safety officer, said staff complained mostly about lifting heavy objects, working in awkward positions and performing repetitive movements, including bending and twisting.
The risk of injury increased where staff were forced to work quickly and intensively - a situation exacerbated by staff shortages. Lack of equipment, or the failure to repair equipment, also contributed to injuries, along with standardised working heights that forced taller or shorter staff to work at awkward heights.
Daley suspected employers rarely gave a thought to kitchen layout, which should become a priority when refurbishing. "We need proper risk assessments to monitor where the real danger areas are and immediate action where solutions have already been identified.
"It seems costly, but if workers are going off sick, bosses have to pay agency staff to cover for them," added Daley.
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 19 August 2004