Make your home office a safe workplace

Avoid kitchen hazards to prevent injury and illness when working from home.

A closeup of someone chopping vegetables for a lunch platter.
Photo: Pexels/Ron Lach.

Workplace safety is always a priority in keeping employees safe, even when the workplace is at home. In a formal workplace, there are federal regulations that are designed to promote workplace safety and define circumstances when an injury would be considered work-related. However, the safest way to reduce the risk of injury is to prevent these accidents before they happen. Many hazards in the home environment can come from the kitchen. Those hazards can include cuts, burns, and even foodborne illness.

MSU Extension encourages workers to be aware of these hazards in the kitchen as a first step in avoiding potential injury or illness during those work-from-home lunch and coffee breaks.

Cuts can happen while using knives and sharp bladed appliances, or from objects like broken glass. These types of injuries can range from superficial to serious, and some can require medical care. To avoid cuts, keep knives sharp and never put knives or sharp appliance blades in a sink full of water. Additionally, never hand a knife to someone; instead, lay the knife down for them to pick up, and when walking with a knife hold the point downwards. Finally, thoroughly clean up broken glass, ceramic or other materials that may have sharp edges. To clean up broken glass, never use your bare hands. To clean up large pieces, use a broom and dustpan and for small pieces and shards and then use moistened, disposable paper towels.

Burns are another important hazard to be aware of when working from home. Hot burners, hot water and steam may result in serious injury. Burns can be caused by oven misuse, like accidentally touching hot areas or using damp/wet oven mitts, towels or other cloth products to handle hot items. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food heated in a microwave can also become a hazard. Microwaves heat food unevenly and hot spots in the food may cause burns to the mouth and even the body if the hot spot “explodes” and sprays hot food. Burns and fires may be prevented by never leaving food to cook on the stovetop unattended, by using dry oven mitts to remove food from the oven and by letting food sit after microwaving, allowing the temperature of the food time to even out.

While the stove may cause injury from hot burners, it can also create emergency situations. For instance, when cooking oil is heated too much, or flammable materials are placed on or near a stovetop, it could start a fire. If a kitchen fire does occur, never try to extinguish it with water or flour as this can cause the fire to spread. Instead, for a grease fire, turn off the burner and smother the fire with a pan lid or use the proper fire extinguisher. For other cooking fires, use baking soda to put out the fire. 

The U.S. Fire Administration recommends having at least one smoke alarm per floor, located in areas that will protect each room. Smoke alarms in garages and basements are also recommended. Testing the alarms once a month ensures that they will be working if needed and remember to change the batteries in the alarms at least once a year. Additionally, carbon monoxide detectors should be located on each floor and near any sources of combustion (five to 20 feet), such as ovens and furnaces.

Finally, there are several hazards that can cause foodborne illness. Foodborne illness may result in symptoms ranging from an upset stomach to more serious illnesses that require hospitalization. One of the best ways to prevent foodborne illness is to follow the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s advice to:

  • Clean: Always wash anything that comes into contact with raw food, including hands, utensils and surfaces.
  • Separate: Avoid cross-contamination by using different cutting boards when preparing meat, vegetables and ready-to eat-food. 
  • Cook: Always cook food thoroughly and confirm food has been heated to a safe minimum cooking temperature by using a kitchen thermometer.
  • Chill: Refrigerate leftovers within one to two hours. Leftovers are recommended to be used within three to four days and need to be heated to a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Emergencies can occur whether you are at work, at home or working at home. Learning about and then preparing for those emergencies will allow you the peace of mind necessary to focus on the job, get your work done and stay safe. For more information on food safety, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food & Water website or call the MSU Food Safety Hotline with your food safety questions at 877-643-9882.

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