The most common kitchen injuries and how to avoid them

Blunt knives require extra force to cut, so keep knives sharp.
Blunt knives require extra force to cut, so keep knives sharp. Photo: Shutterstock

I burnt my hand again this morning. A small paperclip-sized wound that left me wincing. I've done it so many times in the past few months that my hands have started to look like a cautionary tale – "this is why we use oven gloves, kids!" 

It happens when I'm trying to do things in a hurry. I'm yelling instructions to my children (brush your teeth! put your uniform on!), making up lunchboxes and scrolling through emails on my phone. When it's time to take the bread out the oven I grab a tea towel - putting on oven gloves just seems like too much effort. 

Of course this time-saving technique is flawed. Yes, it's quicker to use a tea towel, but the five minutes standing at the sink with my hand under cold running water is time-keeping karma. Sadly, as the many scars on my hands will attest, I haven't learnt my lesson yet. 

'Always be aware of what you're doing and don't rush.'
'Always be aware of what you're doing and don't rush.' Photo: Shutterstock

While my oven burns are pretty minor, it's worth remembering that some health and safety experts consider the kitchen to be the most dangerous room in the house. Mishaps include cuts, slips, sprains and strains, burns and scalds. 

So why are these injuries so common? Health and safety trainer David Mclvor says a lot of accidents occur because we're trying to multi-task or cut corners to save time (guilty). "People aren't good at multi-skilling, we rush and fail to take the necessary precautions," he says. 

Distraction is another common error. Mclvor says that trying to take a call or look at something on your phone while you are cooking is as dangerous as using a mobile phone while you're driving. When you put it like that, it's no wonder my hands are as scarred as they are. 

Even professional chefs have accidents in the kitchen. Perth chef and caterer Zac Wilkinson at A Moveable Feast says in the past 20 years he has seen his fair share of mishaps. 

"Most accidents have been caused by rushing, not following proper instructions and plain stupidity," he says. 

"Always be aware of what you're doing and don't rush."  

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To reduce the risk of injury, try these tips: 

To reduce cuts 

Blunt knives require extra force to cut, which increases the risk of cutting yourself, so keep knives sharp. Take your time when slicing and dicing. "Rapid slicing might look impressive on My Kitchen Rules, but even professional chefs suffer bad cuts when going too fast, so take your time," Mclvor says. 

When you've finished using knives, don't dump them in the sink, Wilkinson adds: "I've seen some shocking injuries from knives and other sharp implements in the sink. It's easy to forget what's in there and then you're sticking your hands into unknown territory."

When you're not using them, store knives in drawers, scabbards or their wooden blocks.

To reduce burns and scalds 

It might seem obvious but if your pot or pan, stove hob or oven is hot enough to cook food, it will burn skin. "Use dry oven mitts [wet ones will rapidly conduct heat and result in burns] when touching anything hot," Mclvour says.  

Don't forget to turn handles of pots away from the front of the stove, where they can easily be knocked.

Take extra care with ovens, Wilkinson says. "If you stick your whole arm inside a stinking hot oven and touch the sides, guess what? You'll flinch and burn the other side of your arm. I've still got the marks from a thin bread oven from 15 years ago," he says. 

To reduce slips 

Keep floors clear of obstacles and clean up any spills immediately. "Slippery floors are a disaster waiting to happen. A chef mate of mine busted his knee because someone dropped birthday cake and didn't clean it up," Wilkinson says. 

To reduce sprains and strains 

Sprains and strains are usually related to awkward postures and manual handling activities. "Stooping can be a big problem," Wilkinson says. 

You can reduce the risk by making sure you are in a comfortable position. When a repetitive action is required take regular breaks to shake out your hands and arms.