Microwave safety in the workplace

November 4th, 2011

Microwaves may seem like an unlikely source of danger, but wherever there are high temperatures, risk of injury exists. Raising awareness of dangers associated with the seemingly harmless kitchen appliance is essential for preventing accidents. Understanding contributing factors and control mechanisms to implement for microwave hazards are essential steps in any workplace risk assessment.

Case study
In October last year, an employee at a fast-food outlet suffered horrific burns while removing cooked food from the microwave. The 10-litre container was food storage and microwave approved, but became a hazard after 10 minutes in the microwave oven. The hot plastic gave way as it was lifted out, and funnelled boiling water onto the worker, resulting in burns requiring skin grafts.

The victim was not wearing personal protective equipment, which is recommended for anyone operating a microwave frequently in his or her workplace. While this is not necessary for someone who uses the microwave in the common room every now and then, it is a good idea in the hospitality industry. Protective equipment would include a full-length PVC apron, oven mitts, and industry specific clothing.

In this case, written instructions were available, but a separate set of instructions was given for this task, leading directly to the accident. Signage containing cooking procedures in all possible circumstances should be easily visible from the microwave, as well as instructions for the immediate treatment of burns. If employees are unsure, they should be actively encouraged to always seek advice from a qualified supervisor.

Contributing factors
There were a number of contributing factors in the above case, which are common to most accidents involving microwaves. Firstly, an inappropriate container was used for the particular cooking procedure. Instructions should specify which type of container should be used in certain circumstances, as well as cooking instructions for the food itself. Often, when produce is bought in bulk, the individual packaging does not contain instructions, so the supervisor on site must ensure the worker has access to the correct cooking instructions. If the victim in the case study had access to correct cooking instructions, they would have known frozen peas did not require water to be added.

There was no adequate risk assessment for this type of procedure, which highlights the importance of identifying all hazards systematically and implementing control measures to eliminate or reduce risk. Have frequent training refresher courses, and report any incidents in the workplace accurately to ensure action is taken to prevent it recurring.

A final message to send all your employees is, “If in doubt, ask”. Encourage an environment where everyone in the workplace feels comfortable asking questions, and knows who to seek advice from for a variety of issues. There is no such thing as a silly question, just silly accidents.