From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

New “Ergonomic” Restaurant Opening Soon in NYC

The New York Sun recently reported that former workers at the Windows of the World will open a new restaurant next month that they say will be a tribute to their 73 colleagues who perished in the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and much more.

Those organizing the launch of the restaurant, called Colors, are members of the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunity Center of New York. They want to create a new type of restaurant, where workers are owners, stress is kept at a minimum, and all possible measures are taken to prevent work-related injuries.

The focus on the restaurant’s ergonomics is “something we believe is workers’ rights,” a former Windows on the World waiter who is an ROC-NY director, Fekkak Mamdouh, said. “We want to make an atmosphere that makes their lives easier, their work easier.”

According to a study issued this year by the group, burns and cuts – often the source of nasty tales of blood or even fingertips falling into soup – are frequent in the high-stress restaurant work environment. Back pain – caused by chopping food while slouched over, washing dishes, and hoisting heavy loads on trays – is widespread. Despite the health hazards, 90% of workers do not have health insurance, meaning many decide against treating such injuries.

Colors could be the first restaurant designed specifically with the ergonomic needs of workers in mind, thanks to a three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The clinical ergonomist working on the restaurant, Jonathan Dropkin of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, made a number of recommendations to the architect, including raising the working spaces and bars by between six and eight inches, shifting flow plans so workers are less likely to bump into each other, keeping knives “super, super” sharp, and placing cushiony anti-fatigue mats at the bar and in the kitchen.

After the restaurant opens, he will continue to monitor the workers periodically for three years and make modifications in response to their needs.

These often subtle shifts will make a large difference in decreasing physical strain and the possibility of work-related injury and illness, Mr. Dropkin said. Sharp knives prevent injuries because “the sharper the knives means, one, the less force they need to cut, and also the fewer the strokes,” he said. Standing up straight means less strain on the worker, and more efficiency: “You get a better bang for the buck working in a neutral posture,” he said.

It could also end up saving the restaurant money in the long run. Hand injuries alone cost the food service industry an estimated $300 million a year, factoring in medical expenses, lost time from work, and worker’s compensation insurance payouts, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration findings reported in Nation’s Restaurant News.

A study of New York City restaurant workers conducted by the Restaurant Opportunity Center earlier this year found a high incidence of injuries, and said they often are overlooked. Roughly a third of workers surveyed said they had been burned on the job, half said they had been cut, and a quarter had come into contact with toxic chemicals.

ROC-NY aims to demonstrate through the new restaurant that such injuries are unnecessary and the result of poor practices.

With $1 million in financing, including half a million pledged by an Italian cooperative, and $1.2 million in loans, Colors’s 50 worker owners are ready for business. The restaurant, which was still under construction as of last week, will be located at Astor Place and Lafayette Avenue and will feature world cuisine reflecting the owners’ diverse backgrounds.

The executive director of ROC, Saru Jayaraman, envisions the restaurant as just the beginning of a transformation in New York. The organization plans to open other collective restaurants.

“The objective is to create a model for the industry: You can treat your workers well, create good safety and health standards, and still make a profit,” Ms. Jayaraman said. “The challenge with the ergonomic piece was to stay within the budget and make sure it really is a model.”

Sources: New York Sun