Restaurants pose unique hazards to customers and employees. The presence of food, knives, stoves, grills and other cooking appliances expose them to risks not seen in industrial settings such as warehouses and factories. To reduce these risks, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed safety standards specific to restaurants. If an OSHA inspector discovers a violation of these standards, he may shut the restaurant down until the problem has been corrected.


All servers must undergo a thorough safety training program as part of their new employee orientation. This training must include basic first aid techniques and instruction on how to handle a fire or other emergency in the restaurant. The employer must provide fire extinguishers and a written emergency plan. The plan should focus on safely evacuating the kitchen workers, servers and all customers. Fire extinguishers and emergency exits must be clearly marked throughout the restaurant.

Food Safety

Restaurant servers must use soap and warm water to wash their hands and utensils before touching any food or food preparation areas. Bleach-based cleaners are required for counters and other surfaces that may come in contact with food. Before using any sponges, the server must disinfect them in boiling water or run them through the dishwasher's hot water cycle.

Break and Lunch Facilities

OSHA does not issue any specific regulations regarding breaks and lunch periods for restaurant workers. However, some state laws do require employers to pay workers for one or more rest periods, along with an unpaid meal break. In these states, or if the employer voluntarily allows its employees to take breaks, OSHA requires the restaurant to provide access to an air-conditioned or fan-cooled area where they may take their breaks away from the heat of the kitchen. Employees must also be trained on how to identify and respond to symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration in themselves and other workers.

Underage Employees

If an employee is under 18 years of age, his hours and duties may be limited under OSHA's regulations. Restaurant workers must be at least 16 years old before they are allowed to use knives or cooking appliances. Employees who are 14 or 15 years old may only work 18 hours per week during the school year. They are limited to only three hours per day on school days and eight hours per day on non-school days. While school is in session, these employees may not work after a curfew of 7:00 P.M., even on weekends. Once the school year ends, employees under age 16 may work a full 40-hour week and the curfew moves to 9:00 P.M.