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Food Service Workers

 There are a number of ways food service workers can sustain musculoskeletal injuries that cause lower back pain. The conditions and work requirements of food service in school settings almost guarantee that food service workers will experience a problem at some point in their careers. Notable hazards include:

  • Poor equipment layout in many school cafeterias and kitchens. Ovens often are at a low level and their use requires lifting heavy pans from a position lower than the knees. Most kitchen layouts require too much stooping and reaching.
  • Holding the same position for long periods of time. Food service workers often must stand on hard floors without an opportunity to move or shift positions.
  • Repetitive use of the arms and hands during preparation and serving of food.
  • Frequent handling of heavy objects, such as commercial cookware, containers of food and boxes.

It’s no wonder that food service workers frequently complain of chronic pain. The demands and working conditions can affect every major muscle in the body. Common complaints and injuries include:

  • Hip and knee pain associated with standing for long periods of time and with heavy lifting.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome from handling heavy pans of food and from serving food.
  • Other hand injuries, such as DeQuervain’s Syndrome--a sausage-like swelling of the tendon of the thumb muscles due to a combination of forceful gripping and hard twisting.
  • Upper and lower back pain from lifting, twisting and handling heavy loads.
  • Neck and shoulder pain.


  •  When you must stand for long periods of time, use a heavy rubber mat.
  • Wear shoes with good support.
  • Whenever possible, alternate periods of standing and sitting to reduce the stress on your back and walk around (without carrying heavy loads) as frequently as you can--this will reduce the compression on your spinal disks.
  • Store heavy boxes and containers no lower than knuckle height and no higher than shoulder level to avoid lifting from the floor level and working above the shoulders.
  • As much as possible, reduce the weight of items to be carried. Make more trips with lighter loads (e.g., open cartons and boxes and transfer fewer items)
  • Push carts (with two hands) instead of pulling them.
  • Avoid twisting in both the standing and sitting positions.
  • Consult your physician about an aerobics exercise program. Walking, biking and other aerobic exercise can help protect your back.

The AFT-PSRP Department can provide further information on ergonomics and preventive programs through the AFT-PSRP Occupational Safety and Health Program at 202-393-5674.