From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Sharpen those knives — and Other Advice Omitted by Celebrity TV Chefs

Celebrity TV chefs may be hazardous to your health. An occupational health professional from Australia blamed them recently for a rash of repetitive strain injuries (RSI) reported by home-cooking enthusiasts. It seems the popular programs have set off such a frenzy of chopping, shredding, slicing and stirring that amateur cooks are catching up in injuries with their professional counterparts.

An article in Australia’s Sunday Mail newspaper carries a warning from therapists that food preparation carries the risk of overuse injuries, and that these have soared apace with the popularity of TV cooking programs. Interviewed for the article, “Strain and Serve,” therapist Venerina Johnston points out that would-be chefs can suffer RSI if their knife is dull, or they are holding it incorrectly or applying too much force. “It can be quite debilitating, especially if you can’t learn to alternate with your other hand,” said Johnston, the chairwoman of the Queensland Ergonomics and Occupational Health Group.

According to the physiotherapist, pots are also an issue. “Some of the saucepans you get are also very heavy if you are holding that and trying to pour out of them.” She noted that television chefs don’t talk about ergonomic issues.

Interviewed for the article, muscular-skeletal physiotherapist David Brentnall said chopping is a typical action associated with overuse injury. “Gripping and repetitive activities can certainly be associated with wrist or elbow pain or neck or shoulder strains,” he said.

In the article, physiotherapist Tammie Dare said she treated many women who were “at home full-time and had a lot of injuries to their shoulders, elbows and wrists.” The main aggravating factors are peeling potatoes or picking up pots or kettles, she explained. “Symptoms can be debilitating because it’s not easy to switch to using a non-dominant arm, especially things like peeling or chopping, as it involves fine motor control.”

RSI, caused by low-load repetitive work, appears in a wide range of occupations. Computer workers, musicians and hairdressers are particularly vulnerable to the numbness, tingling, sharp pain, dull ache, weakness, loss of grip and restricted movement associated with RSI.

These are symptoms professional chefs and food handlers know well, and they can be prevented. The United States Department of Labor (DOL) has published ergonomic guidelines for commercial kitchen workers, which represents equally sound advice for home cooks. They stress making sure that knives are sharp and that handles can be used in either hand. DOL also advises against prolonged or repetitive reaching above shoulder height, kneeling, squatting, leaning over a counter, using a knife with wrists bent, or twisting the torso while lifting. Contact stress – pressing the body or part of the body, such as the hand, against hard or sharp edges is also ill-advised.

RSI is an economic issue in commercial kitchens, so employers have a strong incentive for making sure personnel follow the guidelines. Ergonomically-compliant kitchens report fewer work-related injuries and associated workers’ compensation costs, according to DOL. The department also points out that following the advice can eliminate unnecessary motion, reduce fatigue and increase worker efficiency and productivity.

Once aware of the need for well-designed kitchen tools, the would-be chef has wide choice. Top-of-the-line manufacturers take ergonomic design very seriously. One famous company says this about its knives: “The ergonomically designed handles perfectly mould themselves into your hand to make cutting pure bliss.”

Now that the risks of home cooking are out in the open, celebrity chefs can extricate themselves from any blame by delivering RSI prevention pointers along with cooking techniques, inviting their audience to discover the “pure bliss” of cutting with sharp, ergonomically-designed knives.

Sources: Daily Mail, US Department of Labor