Restaurant Workers’ Health and Safety

LOHP has developed a number of training programs, materials and other initiatives, targeting health and safety issues in the restaurant industry.


Through our Worker Occupational Safety and Health Training and Education Project (WOSHTEP), we have developed a number of materials and training programs for restaurant workers and employers.

Our program helps by offering:

  1. Free interactive workshops in English and Spanish for workers and owners
  2. Materials in English, Spanish and Chinese for training workers, including tip sheets with practical suggestions for dealing with specific hazards
  3. Technical assistance and small business safety resources



The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) sponsored the development of a pilot project in which food service inspectors are involved in promoting worker health and safety. Food safety inspectors are trained public health professionals who routinely visit restaurants and are experienced in educating employers.

The restaurant environment affects not only the health of consumers who dine at restaurants, but also that of workers employed in them.
  • Over 200,000 work-related injuries occur each year in U.S. eating and drinking establishments.
  • Preventable work-related injuries and wage violations not only negatively affect workers’ health but also create uneven playing fields for law-abiding employers who treat their employees fairly.
  • Worker health and safety can affect food quality and safety.
Innovative interventions are needed to address complex issues.

In 2012, the Environmental Health Departments at San Francisco and Contra Costa Counties participated in a pilot project with LOHP that explored food safety inspectors playing a role in promoting worker health and safety in restaurants and food facilities.

The pilot project involved inspectors:

  1. Using a checklist on routine inspections to identify potential worker safety problem areas, and
  2. Providing information and/or referrals to the owners or managers.


  • 3 focus groups conducted with inspectors and restaurant owners and managers to develop the pilot.
  • 7 food safety inspectors, from San Francisco (3) and Contra Costa (4) Counties volunteered to help develop, be trained on, and carry out the pilot project.
  • 2 versions of the pilot were developed for the 2 counties. San Francisco used a short 5-item checklist and inspectors gave out a safety brochure. Contra Costa used a 15-item checklist and inspectors had an array of educational options to choose to provide to restaurant operators.
  • 261 facilities included in the pilot, 184 from San Francisco, 77 from Contra Costa.
  • Inspectors engaged in evaluation and debriefing of the pilot project in 2012 & 2013.

Findings from the Checklist

Top problems identified in restaurants and food facilities in San Francisco and Contra Costa:

  • At least one worker safety and health problem or hazard was found in 69% of all food facilities inspected (68% San Francisco, 70% Contra Costa County).
  • Required labor postings were the most commonly identified problem in facilities, with 56% of all establishments missing at least one posting (60% in San Francisco, 45% in Contra Costa).
  • Inadequate ventilation was observed in 10% of all facilities (13% in San Francisco and 4% in Contra Costa).
  • Trip hazards and slippery floors were a problem in 7% of all facilities. Trip hazards included 8% in Contra Costa and 7% in San Francisco, while slippery floors included 13% in Contra Costa, 4% in San Francisco.
  • In Contra Costa, inadequately stocked first aid kits were found in 13% and missing non-slip mats were found to be a problem in 12% of establishments. Of the 9 identified, 4 were found in facilities which also had problems with slippery floors.

Lessons Learned

  • Food inspectors are well-placed to play a role in promoting worker health and safety given their presence in restaurants and established skills and communication channels with restaurant operators.
  • Worker health and safety can be used as a tool to reinforce food safety messages.
  • Food inspectors are busy with many demands on their time. The shorter checklist and simpler education component was substantially easier to implement.
  • A regulatory mandate may be the most effective way to incorporate worker safety and health into food inspections. If an issue is not in Cal Code or otherwise explicitly enforceable, it is hard for inspectors to spend time to focus on an issue.
  • Other ideas for incorporating worker safety and health in Environmental Health Departments include having it be a special assignment for 1-2 inspectors or offering training for continuing education credit at environmental health conferences.
  • Incorporation of worker safety and health into required food safety certification training for workers is another potential avenue to explore.




San Francisco Chinatown restaurant workers in conjunction with the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) and key research partners, including LOHP, released a study that exposes sweatshop conditions in restaurant workers in the popular tourist district Chinatown. This groundbreaking report examines health and working conditions in Chinatown restaurants, with over 400 workers interviewed by their peers, and lays out a vision for improving working conditions for a healthy Chinatown.



Key findings about the working conditions include:

  • 1 out of 2 workers (50%) receive less than minimum wage
  • 1 out of 5 workers (20%) work more than 60 hours a week
  • Nearly half (48%) of workers have experienced burn injury
  • Only 3% of workers have employer provided health care
  • 95% do not receive a living wage

Through this important study, Check, Please! Health and Working Conditions in San Francisco Chinatown Restaurants, Chinatown workers are exposing the sweatshop working conditions that they must endure. While thousands of locals and tourists who enjoy Chinatown each day, workers are struggling to make ends meet and provide for their families. Many workers and their families are forced to live in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) spaces in Chinatown that average about 80 square feet.

This study found that labor law violations hurt the local economy. Out of the estimated $70.8 million economy (taxable sales) in Chinatown’s restaurant industry, workers lose over $8 million dollars a year due to labor law violations. For a kitchen worker, this is approximately $6,000 per year and 30% of their annual income.

Check, Please! was funded by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOHS), The California Endowment and The California Wellness Foundation. The research was designed and conducted by restaurant workers in partnership with researchers from UC Berkeley and UCSF San Francisco, UC Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program, and the San Francisco Department of Public Health, with writing support from the DataCenter. The full report and executive summary is available online at



A small business training program is currently available for owners and managers of small restaurants in California. The restaurant training materials are available to read or download in English and Spanish.


Charlotte Chang