Restaurant Workers Face High Level of Indoor Air Quality Threats

April 7, 2016

Workplace air quality threats and the dangers of continued exposure to polluted indoor air are finally garnering the overdue attention needed in order to bring awareness to this major health concern. Research has shown that poor office indoor air quality negatively impacts productivity and cognitive performance while resulting in more sick days and an elevated number of employees suffering from allergy and asthma symptoms.

Restaurants not only have many of the same threats commonly found in your typical office setting, they also contain numerous other pollutants given off by open flames, cookware, restaurant appliances and refrigeration units, harsh chemical degreasers and industrial strength cleaning solvents. The most common workplace air pollutants are formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals found in flooring, furniture, office equipment, and in fire retardant treatments. In addition to being exposed to these office air threats, restaurant workers face an increased number of industry related exposure hazards.

Mold is a common contaminant found in restaurants. Most restaurants contain larger walk in refrigerated coolers and freezers. Without proper maintenance and adequate ventilation, it is common for these units to contain mold. Business owners should have these systems professionally maintained and visually inspect them for signs of mold on a routine basis. This is also true for coolers used to store beverages, keg coolers, and ice machines. Moisture build up and leaks found around dishwashing sinks and floor drains can also cause mold and should be cleaned and inspected regularly.

Ventilation hoods must be serviced and cleaned regularly in order to expel cooking exhaust. Natural cleaning solutions should be used whenever possible and workers should always exercise caution and wear protective equipment when handling harsh chemical cleaning solutions.

What does this mean for diners that like to frequent restaurants regularly?

Exposure to chemical or biological air contaminants found in a restaurant may trigger allergy or asthma symptoms, but typically isn’t high enough to pose a serious health hazard. While you should avoid restaurants that smell musty or moldy, unless you experience uncomfortable symptoms while dining, you should be safe to frequent your favorite dining spots as often as you please.

The more serious threat applies to restaurant workers that are exposed to these pollutants on a regular basis. Cooks, dishwashers, wait staff, and restaurant managers that put in regular hours are at highest risk. If you work in a restaurant and experience allergy, asthma, or any type of respiratory symptoms on a frequent basis more often when you are at work than not, poor air quality may be to blame.

Suggest an office air test to identify the presence of harmful levels of chemical and biological pollutants. Routine maintenance, adequate ventilation, and the incorporation of safer cooking equipment and natural restaurant décor can increase the overall air quality and help you to breathe easier while at work.