On the Cutting Edge of Safety

More than burns or falls, cut injuries were the leading concern in The Cheesecake Factory's kitchens.

THE kitchen at any one of the 84 Cheesecake Factory restaurants nationwide can be a pretty hectic place. This popular, casual-dining restaurant chain attracts thousands of customers every day for both eat-in and take-out service from its extensive menu--keeping the cooks and the wait staff very busy, given the way people pack in to eat at the upscale eateries.

But no matter how busy things get, The Cheesecake Factory Inc. never leaves safety off the bill for either its guests or its employees. When the company wanted to take proactive measures to prevent injuries to its staff from knife cuts, management looked to invest in products that would ensure the greatest amount of protection with the strongest durability. Cheesecake Factory selected gloves made with a fiber best known for helping to protect military personnel and police from small arms fire. These gloves gave employees the safety they deserve and the confidence they require while working in the restaurants.

The Cheesecake Factory reports it experienced an immediate benefit: a 22 percent reduction in cuts and abrasions among its staff. The restaurant company was happy to serve its employees this added measure of protection and considers the glove technology a key component in its overall safety efforts.

Slicing and Dicing
Knife safety at The Cheesecake Factory is a particularly important issue because of the company's high standards for freshness and food quality. While other restaurants use only pre-sliced, bagged, or frozen vegetables in their meals, The Cheesecake Factory cuts its vegetables fresh for a healthy, "home style" appearance. Additionally, the restaurant wait staff hand-slices its freshly baked bread seconds before it reaches the customers' plates, rather than using an industrial slicer. With the restaurant's overall approach to its food preparation requiring an almost constant use of knives for cutting and serving, finding the most protective gear for its staff was crucial.

"Our fierce focus on freshness makes for a lot of slicing and dicing in our kitchens," said Kurt Leisure, director of risk services for The Cheesecake Factory. Leisure's primary responsibility is to institute corporate safety programs that proactively protect staff and customers at Cheesecake Factory locations throughout the United States. "Lacerations came to be our number one safety issue in the kitchen," he said. "Our staff is constantly slicing, dicing, cutting, and shredding some of our 200 menu items. More than burns or falls, the frequency of lacerations were a concern in the kitchen."

If The Glove Fits . . .
Leisure learned about the gloves his company chose when he contacted Dudley Duncan at the manufacturer's headquarters in Calabasas, Calif. Duncan offered Leisure a thinner cut-resistant glove than others on the market, one made with a high-performance material. The highly protective gloves are "wire free," meaning they have no stainless steel wire core.

Resistant to cuts, slashes, and abrasions, the fiber is made from a polyethylene polymer that is a popular plastic used for everything from milk jugs and joint replacements to children's toys and shampoo bottles. However, the fiber utilizes a high-molecular-weight polyethylene that is manufactured through a patented process, yielding a fiber that is, pound for pound, 10 times stronger than steel and has a specific gravity less than one, so it naturally floats on water. The fibers also are inert to most chemicals, so even chlorine bleaches have no degrading effect on them.

For many years, hand protection offered extremes in cut protection levels: metal mesh and cotton or leather. While metal mesh certainly protects the wearer at the high end, it was often more protection than was needed, in addition to being heavy and cumbersome to wear. The extra glove weight and the repetitive motion of many jobs contributed to problems associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.

The first engineered high-performance gloves used a combination of heavy gauge steel and synthethic fibers or aramids. While these were an improvement over metal mesh, they were still bulky. Additionally, wire breakage would cause discomfort as the wire would break and poke through the knit. The next generation of engineered fiber gloves came from a patented, wire-free composite yarn solution. Because the fibers are available in a wide variety of yarn sizes, this allows manufacturers of the engineered yarns to design constructions for a variety of solutions needed to achieve performance, dexterity, color, and comfort.

The gloves used by The Cheesecake Factory also contain antimicrobial protection to inhibit the growth of bacteria on the gloves' surface. Beyond their usefulness in restaurants and food service, the gloves' applications for cut protection include work with industrial applications such as paper mills, glass manufacturing and handling, and automotive manufacturing. The same fibers are included in both police and surgeons' glove liners.

"Though our current program using gloves made with [the] fiber is a success, our previous attempt to institute glove protection in the kitchen failed miserably," said Leisure. "The staff members were resistant to the first program and were uncomfortable wearing the gloves because the first gloves we tried were just too bulky. The staff didn't want to compromise their dexterity with knife use. We knew it was imperative that we find a protective glove that was thinner, like a golf glove."

Now, employees in kitchens at all Cheesecake Factory restaurants across the United States are using gloves with the fiber, reducing the frequency of cuts and lacerations. "I am relieved to say that we now meet very little resistance from kitchen staff and compliance has drastically increased," Leisure said. "We are truly protecting our staff from serious injuries."

He said he expects this trend to continue: Cheesecake Factory planned to add 16 new restaurants in 2004.

A National Safety Issue
Addressing hand protection is something almost every employer has to consider. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration has set strict standards for companies to adhere to, including this requirement: "Employers shall base the selection of the appropriate hand protection on an evaluation of the performance characteristics of the hand protection relative to the task(s) to be performed, conditions present, duration of use, and the hazards and potential hazards identified."

The gloves enhanced with these high-performance fibers are renowned for their flexible design, exceptional dexterity, and tactile sensitivity. For companies in the food service industry, they are valuable assets for their employees' safety. The Cheesecake Factory's use of the gloves has pushed the restaurant chain to the forefront of occupational safety with one of the most cutting-edge technologies available today.

However, The Cheesecake Factory is not alone in taking innovative methods to update its safety measures. According to the National Safety Council, the U.S. workforce as a whole has achieved great successes in recent years at reducing the burden of unintentional injury.

This article appeared in the January 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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