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Written by
on 14 August 2018


Coffee shop jobs are sometimes the butt of unkind jobs, portrayed as an unskilled role for struggling millennials. But the reality is that coffee has been elevated to an art form, and baristas need extensive training to brew the perfect cup.

It also turns out that working in a coffee shop may be a lot more dangerous than many people imagine. Here are just a few of the risks Baristas take every day.

Exposure to loud noises

Coffee shops have a reputation as a place to meet friends or to hide in a corner reading for a few hours. But for the Barista behind the counter, a coffee shop is anything but quiet.

The milk steamer emits a very loud hiss whenever it is used for instance. The customer experiences that discomfort once – the Barista is exposed to it all day, every day. In some cases at least 85db which is the first action level when legally ear protection must be worn.

Exposure to loud noises over a long period of time can have a serious effect on hearing. In many cases, hearing sensitivity can be recovered over a matter of hours or days, but continuous exposure could lead to permanent hearing damage.

Early research has also begun to establish a link between caffeine and the rate of hearing sensitivity recovery. The more caffeinated coffee a person drinks (like Baristas), the higher the risk that full hearing sensitivity will not be restored.

Frequent exposure to loud noises is also known to increase the risk of developing tinnitus. This condition results in an intermittent buzzing (or similar) noise in the ear which is deeply annoying, and seriously affect the sufferer’s quality of life.

It may sound crazy, but Baristas should seriously consider wearing earplugs at work to protect their hearing. Especially when they are operating bean to cup machines that can hit 90db+.

Exposure to hot liquids

Hot coffee, heated milk, boiling water and steam are important ingredients for making a great latté – and they all present a risk of burns and scalding. Even the most experienced Barista will experience the occasional burn as they rush to make drinks.

Fortunately very few of these injuries tend to be serious, but the potential for harm is ever present.

Baristas need to be reminded that no matter how busy the café may be, their personal safety is paramount. Being slow to make drinks may annoy customers, but even the most impatient would rather wait than see their Barista injure themselves over a rushed cup of coffee.

Exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals

The cleaning products used to clean a coffee shop can be found in industrial kitchens everywhere – but they still need to be handled correctly. The chlorine bleach used for cleaning floors is known to be corrosive, causing burns to the skin, or even irreparable damage to the eyes.

The descaling solutions used to clean coffee machines may also present a problem. Based on the (usually) harmless citric acid, these descalers may cause general respiratory issues, like shortness of breath and a sore throat. People with very sensitive skin may also experience redness if they come into contact with the liquid.

Whenever they handling cleaning products, Baristas and coffee shop staff should wear appropriate personal protective equipment. This may be nothing more than a stout pair of rubber gloves, but they should also consider goggles if a risk assessment shows there is a chance that they may end up with splashes in their eyes.

Exposure to potentially dangerous machinery

Retail-grade coffee machines are also dangerous in their own right. Each machine has a large water boiler inside and many of its surfaces will be extremely hot. A misplaced hand could lead to serious scalding or burns.

Similarly, coffee bean grinders also present a significant risk to fingers if safety guards are removed, or proper usage instructions are not followed.

The repetitive nature of tamping coffee grounds or switching portafilters could also be problematic. If Baristas are not properly mindful of their actions, they could go on to develop repetitive strain injuries. These conditions are not trivial either. Long-term pain could eventually prevent Baristas from being able to work at all.

It is also worth bearing in mind that Baristas spend many hours a day on their feet. Without regular breaks, they could go on to develop serious ankle, hip and back problems that may last the rest of their life. Employees should be encouraged to wear sensible shoes for the duration of their shift, and to make sure that they take all of their breaks – preferably sat down.

Like all jobs – there are real risks to health and safety

Working in a coffee shop may sound like a relatively safe occupation, but there are still risks that need to be identified and managed. Otherwise, Baristas may go on to develop occupational illnesses or injuries that last a lifetime.

For more help and advice on safety in a coffee shop, please get in touch and invite us in for a chat over Coffee and cake.

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A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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