Espresso Blog

For The Love of Coffee: Work Injuries Among Baristas

by Julie Beals on November 30, 2015

This article appeared on the Australian website, safetyculture.com.au.

The café industry is booming and the demand to consistently provide the best product and service is taking its toll on baristas.

Work-related injuries among baristas are on the rise due to repetitive stress from slinging coffee. Coffee tamping using manual pressure can increase the risk of barista elbow, repetitive strain injuries (RSI), and barista wrist.

Treatments for these injuries include analgesics, physical therapy, and ultrasound therapy. Severe cases may require more aggressive interventions including surgery.

Two years ago, a Canberra barista who suffered permanent disability after years of steaming jugs of milk won a payout of almost $600,000.

A 2013 study on the health risks that baristas are exposed to in the workplace revealed that 47 percent of the participants suffering from RSI directly attributed the illness to their jobs.

One of the survey respondents said his injury forced him to quit being a barista.

“My doc said surgery for carpal tunnel is pointless. I essentially had to let my body heal, which meant that I had to quit being a barista. Now I sit behind a desk and I wish every day to be out with my customers, exploring the coffee world, and seeing farms! But those jobs are so hard to find without being forced to deal with torn ligaments,” he said.

A hand specialist told the New York Post in a 2014 article that work injuries among baristas in the cafe industry are common.

“It’s common, and usually chronic,” said Phaeleau Cunneen, a hand specialist at SPEAR Physical Therapy in Manhattan.

He said the dangers involved in the motions of making and serving coffee are far more serious than what the average person knows.

He explained that to make an espresso, “you have to stamp the espresso, push it into the machine, then turn the knob – and the person running the machine is probably making 100-300 cups a day, maybe more.”

In an effort to minimise injuries brought about by manual tamping, Barista Technology NSW has introduced a fully automatic coffee tamper that completely removes the manual pressure required to tamp coffee.

With just a push of a button, the world’s first automatic coffee tamper, PUQPRESS removes the need for repetitive application of pressure in tamping coffee.

“With long term RSI injuries to baristas becoming more and more apparent, minimise the risk to your business and protect your staff by replacing your traditional tamping method with the PUQPRESS. The PUQPRESS eliminates the need for repetitive application of pressure, dramatically decreasing the stress enured when tamping with manual coffee tamps. Coffee is perfectly tamped by the push of a button,” Barista Technology NSW stated in its website.

Coffee shop owners are now becoming increasingly aware of the risks that their employees are facing daily. Many have worked to retrain their staff to protect them from the physical strain of coffee making and serving. Some have even redesigned their bars to be ergonomically safe.

Diane Gregory, a professor of kinesiology and ergonomic expert at Laurier in Canada told the National Posthealth problems that baristas experience resulting from physical stress can be minimised.

“From an ergonomics perspective, there shouldn’t be a physical pain or injury-inducing parts of a job,” she said.

She suggests using automated tampers and for staff to be rotated through tasks to reduce long shift of constant tamping.

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