My friend Dave Dawson worked as a line cook at a busy Ottawa restaurant in the late 80s. He and his coworkers ran the kitchen with little to no supervision.
One night a cook asked Dave to do something that seemed pretty sketchy.
“I was told to re-fill a deep fryer that was on,” said Dave. “Usually you’re supposed to use buckets of liquid oil because it gets hot so fast and it goes right in and heats evenly, but they said ‘open that box of lard up and put it in the deep fryer’ so I did.”
At that time, he was a young worker – under 25 – eager to please and not comfortable asking questions. Despite his better judgment, he plopped the 15-pound cube of lard into the deep fryer.
“The piece of lard got stuck at the top and it started to smoke at the sides. We really had to hack at it to make sure it didn’t go all over the place.”
The lard was similar in size to “a small television” and hacking at it didn’t help much. The smoke got thicker, so they tried another approach.
“We got very large pots for cooking sauces – that could hold probably six litres of liquid – and we scooped some of the hot oil out of the other deep fryers and poured it over the huge chunk of lard to try to melt it down.”
Thankfully no one was hurt. People need safety training and orientation in a kitchen, but this didn’t happen at Dave’s old workplace.
“In the kitchen, it would often happen at night that new people would show up. There was no sort of mentor,” said Dave. “There was no supervisor. We had a general manager, who had to manage the waiters and waitresses too, so he was not present very often.”
Hot oil can cause serious burns and spilled oil cause horrible slipping accidents like this “shockvertising” from the WSIB.
Safety for new and young workers in restaurant kitchens
StartSafe Kitchen Safety – Tip #4: Using deep fat fryers safely, from WorkSafeBC
Safety kit for the Hospitality and Tourism industry, from WorkSafeBC
Health and safety issues for cooks, from OHS Answers by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Stop slips in kitchens, from Britain’s Health and Safety Executive