With slippery floors, heavy objects, and sharp tools being used in close quarters, a busy commercial kitchen can be as hazardous as any construction site. Slip-and-fall accidents, punctures, sprains and crushing injuries are very real dangers hospitality workers face every day. That means safe footwear is as important when working in the kitchen as it is in any hazardous workplace.
Greg Howe is a Certified Chef de Cuisine, and has been a culinary instructor at Humber College in Toronto, Canada for eight years. In his time in the hospitality industry, Howe specialized in catering large events. He has worked at high-end hotels, large catering companies, and even owned a mobile kitchen that catered film sets and sporting events, as well as touring with the likes of U2 and the Rolling Stones. He has a personal story of how the proper footwear can prevent injury when working in the kitchen.
“I had a keg fall,” he says. “I was going down a hallway, and a keg just wasn’t put on properly. It fell on my foot, and I can tell you, if I didn’t have steel-toe shoes on, I probably would have a few crushed toes by now. That shoe saved my feet.”
So Are Work Boots Recommended?
While Howe says people who wear full-on work boots are rare in the hospitality industry, likely due to weight and comfort concerns, he does recommend approved steel-toe safety shoes with non-slip soles that are resistant to oil, rateworkboots is a site where you can find more information. Other common kitchen footwear, while it may be comfortable for long hours of standing on your feet, simply is not up to the task of facing kitchen dangers.
“Some people wear crepe soles, for instance,” he says. “They’re really bad for a kitchen because oil eats away at the sole. So if you wear those in a kitchen, they will eventually disintegrate. If you don’t have no-slip shoes, you risk falling.”
Birkis, closed-toe polyurethane clogs made by Birkenstock, are also a popular choice among hospitality workers. Although comfortable, Birkis offer little protection if accidents happen.
“I know a story of a guy that dropped a knife, and it went right through his toes,” Howe says. “He was just wearing a Birki-style plastic sort of shoe, and the knife dropped and went right through. That wouldn’t happen to me because I have a steel toe on.”
As a culinary instructor, Howe instills the importance of safe footwear on his students. “At Humber, it’s a requirement that students wear shoes that are steel-toe with the CSA green patch. That’s the standard, no ifs, ands or buts. If you don’t have steel-toe, non-slip shoes in the kitchen, then you cannot participate.”
As important as footwear is in preventing workplace injury, he stresses that there’s more that goes into ensuring safety in a commercial kitchen. “The footwear is just one aspect of safety. The type of shoes you wear, even if they’re steel-toe, aren’t going to prevent accidents, but it’s one factor in the prevention of injuries. Working smart, following procedures, wearing the proper uniform, all these other things, it’s a package.”
Finding shoes that strike the perfect balance between the safety, durability and comfort needed for kitchen work may take time, but the effort is worth it.