There is no doubt that there is an obesity problem in the United States and that kids eat more than their fair share of junk food. While fruit may be great for students, it is really unhealthy for custodians and food service workers.
The new Federal requirements mandate that each child receiving a free and reduced lunch is to receive one piece of fruit with their meal. What the new Federal requirements don’t take into account is what happens to the unwanted fruit kids throw away.
A large district in California asked us to look at their injury records for custodial staff and food service workers. They were experiencing big increases in back, shoulder and wrist injuries. They had their eye on this new requirement to provide fruit, but they were looking at the disposal phase of this fruit’s life cycle. And they were right!
School Children Don’t Eat Fruit
School children, especially in elementary schools, were throwing away their fruit right after they picked it up without even taking a bite. The younger kids didn’t want to take the time to eat their fruit and just threw it away. “There’s no provision for the kids to NOT take the fruit. They have to take it.” said one school official.
Fruit is heavy – at least it is much heavier than empty potato chip bags and other food items that get eaten. And trash cans don’t have a way to limit the weight that is being put into them. This is wreaking havoc with NIOSH’s Lifting Index and causing serious injuries to custodial staff.
Weights of trash bags were increasing by 20lbs, not to mention ripping inferior bags causing custodians to add 4 bags to each trash can. Simply adding 4lbs of weight to a lift being performed 2 times per minute can take your Lifting Index from a safe zone to the danger zone.
A similar problem was happening with food service workers. They were now expected to pick up 48lb cases of oranges. But the freezers were not built to store these types of cases, so they got thrown on the floor by delivery drivers. Heavier items should be stored at waist to chest level to minimize the travel distances – thereby keeping the Lifting Index close to 1.0.
What to do Next
If you are complying with the Federal requirements to provide fruit, then you should really perform a study of the fruit handling process. Measure your food storage areas, distances to prep areas, trash handling process, distances to dumpsters and the push/pull forces of your trash carts. Making minor changes to these programs can pay huge dividends to your safety and work comp program – just like an apple a day.