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The hotel, restaurant and catering (HORECA) sector includes a range of businesses, such as hotels, restaurants, pubs, cafes, caterers, canteens and fast-food takeaways. HORECA is a growing service sector within the EU economy and a crucial job generator. Within the HORECA sector there is a wide range of demanding jobs, such as cleaners and chefs, often placed in a similarly wide range of vocational settings such as kitchens, hotel rooms, swimming pools, each with its own unique set of hazards and risks.
This article will look at typical problems in this sector, describing hazards and risks, and highlighting prevention and control measures.

Definitions and characteristics

The economy of hotels and restaurants is intimately tied to the tourism industry, to business travel and to conferences[1]. It is an important economic factor: across the EU28, there were 1,921,244 HORECA enterprises in 2015. In the accommodation sector there were 321,446 enterprises that generated €85,692.5 billion of value added. In food and beverage service activities there were 1,599,798 enterprises that generated €167,154 billion of value added.

The HORECA sector (Nace code 55 and 56) employed 10,555,500 persons in 2016, representing around 5% of total employment in the European Union (Eurostat European, Labour Force Survey). Food and beverage service activities is the biggest subsector, accounting for 75% of total HORECA employment. Women account for 54% of the total workforce[2].

Many enterprises are family run; with more than 90% of all enterprises employing less than ten workers. The vast majority of enterprises in this sector can be described as small to medium in size. Enterprises with more than 250 workers made up 0.1% of all enterprises, whilst those with less than 50 workers constituted an estimated 99%.[3]

The main characteristics of the sector are described in the article Managing psychosocial risks in HORECA and in a 2008 EU-OSHA report [3]. They include a high percentage of unskilled workers, of young workers, of part-time work, irregular hours and a longer working week than the other sectors, accompanied by often low pay and few career prospects.

Figures and trends

The shift towards a service economy is a long-term trend observed in the EU in the second half of the 20th century. In 2018, employment in services accounted for 74 % of total employment in the EU compared with 66 % in 2000, while employment in industry decreased from 26 % in 2000 to 22 % in 2018 and agriculture halved from 8 % to 4 %[4].

Table 1 shows the incidence rate of non-fatal accidents (4 days and over) and of fatal accidents for all sectors as well as for the:

  • Sector Accommodation and food service activities (Nace – Section I)
  • Subsector Accommodation  (Nace 55)
  • Subsector Food and beverage service activities (Nace 56)

The data show that the incidence rate in the HORECA sector is slightly higher compared to all sectors. The subsector Accommodation has a higher incidence rate. The overall trend is the same. Between 2010 and 2017 the incidence rate declined in the Accommodation sector as well as in All sectors.

Table 1 – Incidence rate – non-fatal and fatal accidents – All sectors and Sector I Accommodation and food service activities (EU28)

Non-fatal accidents at work 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Total - all NACE activities 1.682,19 1.665,05 1.575,91 1.537,6 1.580,87 1.535,09 1.570,84 1.556,86
Accommodation and food service activities 1.811,69 1.816,41 1.698,61 1.730,7 1.623,09 1.645,35 1.665,62 1.599,08
Accommodation 1.873,85 2.015,42 1.691,87 1.701,8 1.628,41 1.656,74 1.688,63 1.823,37
Food and beverage service activities 1.791,56 1.751,9 1.700,76 1.739,89 1.621,37 1.641,68 1.658,23 1.527,23
Fatal Accidents at work            
Total - all NACE activities 2,09 2,02 1,91 1,78 1,83 1,83 1,69 1,65
Accommodation and food service activities 0,59 0,52 0,45 0,59 0,75 0,69 0,57 0,73
Accommodation 0,61 0,66 0,33 0,71 1,1 0,66 0,53 0,79
Food and beverage service activities 0,58 0,48 0,49 0,55 0,63 0,71 0,58 0,71

Incidence rate = number of accidents at work per 100 000 workers

Source: [5]

Company size

Table 2 shows the distribution of accidents at work according to company size. 60% of all accidents at work in the HORECA occur in small companies (with less than 50 employees). This is notably more compared to all sectors where 36% of all accidents occur in companies with less than 50 employees.

Table 2 - Accidents at work according to company size (EU28-2017)

Total number of accidents All 1 to 9 employees 10 to 49 50 to 249 250 to 499 500 +
Total - all NACE activities 3.345.901 464.188 738.337 750.259 245.412 599.381
Accommodation 170.578 46.202 56.300 31.285 6.915 13.736

Source: [5]


Table 3 shows the accident incidence rate of the different age groups. In the younger age groups (18 to 34 years) the incidence rate is higher (employees are at higher risk of an accident).

Table 3 – Incidence rate of accidents at work – Age (EU28-2017)

Non-fatal accidents at work All Less than 18 years 18 to 24 years 25 to 34 years 35 to 44 years 45 to 54 years 55 to 64 years 65 years +
Total - all NACE activities 1.556,86 1.829,08 2.089,01 1.531,60 1.500,81 1.531,19 1.518,75 866,07
Accommodation 1.823,37 1.325,52 2.007,35 1.691,29 1.876,91 1.863,02 1.965,63 758,70

Incidence rate = number of accidents at work per 100 000 workers

Source: [5]

Types of injuries

Table 3 shows the distribution of accidents at work according to type of injury. Most accidents in the Accomodation sector result in Wounds and superficial injuries, followed by Dislocations, sprains and strains and Concussions and internal injuries. Noteworthy is the relatively high number of burns. Slightly more than 6% of the accidents are burns, while in all sectors this is only 1%.

Table 4 - Accidents at work according to type of injury (EU28-2017)

Number of accidents Total - all NACE activities Accommodation
All 3.345.901 170.578
Wounds and superficial injuries 973.287 66.246
Bone fractures 378.245 14.367
Dislocations, sprains and strains 915.493 39.153
Traumatic amputations (Loss of body parts) 14.071 318
Concussions and internal injuries 594.026 22.691
Burns, scalds and frostbites 57.350 10.650
Poisonings and infections 11.852 256
Drownings and asphyxiations 2.576 409
Effects of sound, vibration and pressure 2.758 34
Effects of temperature extremes, light and radiation 7.720 1.125
Shocks 117.118 5.415
Multiple injuries 25.451 1.742

Source: [5]

Musculoskeletal disorders

Data from the Sixth European Working Conditions Survey (2015) show that almost half of European workers suffer from MSDs. It should be noted that the EWCS doesn't make a distinction between work-related and non-work-related complaints. With the figure of 43% of employees who report backache, the Accomodation sector scores just below the average for all sectors (46%). This is also the case for upper limb disorders, 41% compared to the average of 43%. However, employees if the Accommodation sector do report more lower limb disorders. This is in line with the nature of the work in the HORECA in which employees often have to stand for long periods of time or frequently walk back and forth.  

Table 5 - Percentage of workers reporting MSDs in the past 12 months, by sector, EU-28, 2015

  Backache Upper limb disorders Lower limb disorders
Agriculture, forestry, fishing 60% 56% 46%
Construction 52% 54% 41%
Wholesale and retail trade 42% 40% 30%
Accommodation and food service activities 43% 41% 35%
All 46% 43% 30%


Source: Panteia based on the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) [6].

Legal requirements

Directive 1989/391/EEC - the ’framework directive’ - is the 'basic law' on occupational safety and health in the EU. Under this general directive, several so-called ‘daughter directives’ were adopted, some of which address the situation in specific sectors. There is no specific directive for the HORECA sector, but several of these daughter directives are relevant such as on minimum safety and health requirements for: the workplace, the use of work equipment, the use of PPE, the handling of loads, the protection from exposure to chemicals, biological agents, noise, vibration, the protection of young workers, etc.

Although not specifically an OSH legislation the following directives also affect the health and safety situation of the workers in the HORECA sector:

  • Hygiene of foodstuffs (Regulation 852/2004/EC) [7]
  • Specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin (Regulation 853/2004/EC) [8]

Hazards and risks

Workers in the hotel and catering sector (as well as the transport sector) have to deal with the most unfavourable working conditions in the economy, and saw a deterioration in working conditions from 1995 to 2000, especially with regard to psychosocial risks (ergonomic conditions, working hours, job demands and job autonomy).[3] In the above-mentioned report, EU-OSHA established the various hazards and risks which are relevant in the sector.[3]

The safety and health risk factors for the sector include:

  • noise (kitchen, discotheque, night club, cafe, etc.);
  • subdued lighting (possible consequences: falls, burns, eye injuries, etc.);
  • air temperature and quality (sudden temperature variations, exposure to steam, toxic substances and gasses, poor air quality, etc.);
  • physical workload (prolonged standing, constant movements, lifting of loads such as beds, furniture, merchandise, etc.);
  • skin complaints and infections due to frequent contact with water, food, cleaning products, etc.;
  • new equipment and technologies (kitchen equipment, making reservations via the internet, air conditioning, etc.), incorrect operation, mechanical jobs, repetitive and unvarying work, etc.;
  • tobacco and alcohol (easy access);
  • stress caused due to the workload, working conditions, employment status;
  • contact with sharp objects and hot products
  • repetitive use of stairways or lifts
  • night travel to and from home, violence, harassment etc. [3]

The International Labour Organization has come to similar conclusion, as shown in the following table (Table 6).

Table 6 Occupational health in the HORECA sector according to ILO

Job Stress Because of the periods of intense activity and the necessity of pleasing the patrons on whose gratuities their livelihoods often depend, many of the workers in this industry are subject to high levels of job stress. They must often comply with seemingly unreasonable or even impossible requests and may be subjected to abusive behaviour on the part of supervisors as well as customers. Many of the jobs, particularly those in kitchens and laundries, must be carried out in stressful environments featuring high heat and humidity, poor ventilation, poor lighting and noise.
Violence The workers are exposed to many of the risk factors for workplace homicide: exchange of money with the public, working alone or in small numbers, working late night or early morning hours and guarding valuable property or possessions.
Musculoskeletal problems Except for the special problems noted below, the majority of musculoskeletal injuries result from slips and falls and from lifting and handling heavy and/or bulky objects.
Skin problems Most of the skin problems may be traced to exposure to soap and hot water, to the chemicals in detergents and other cleaning/polishing materials and, in some instances, to pesticides.
Sprains, strains and repetitive motion injuries Back injuries and other sprains and strains commonly occur among doormen, porters and bellmen lifting and carrying luggage (a particular problem when large tour groups arrive and depart); kitchen workers and others receiving and storing bulk supplies; and housekeeping workers lifting mattresses, making beds and handling bundles of laundry. A unique type of injury is carpal tunnel syndrome among food service workers who use scoops to prepare servings of hard ice cream and other frozen desserts.
Cuts and lacerations Cuts and lacerations are common among restaurant workers and dishwashers who deal with broken glass and crockery, and who handle or clean sharp knives and slicing machines. They are also common among chambermaids who encounter broken glasses and discarded razor blades in cleaning out waste baskets; they may be protected by lining the baskets with plastic bags which can be removed en masse.
Burns and scalds Burns and scalds are common among chefs, dishwashers and other kitchen workers and laundry workers. Grease burns occur from splatters during cooking or as food is dropped into deep-fat fryers, when hot grease is added, filtered or removed, and when grills and fryers are cleaned while hot. Many result when workers slip on wet or slippery floors and fall on or against hot grills and open flames. A unique type of burn occurs in restaurants where flaming desserts, entrees and drinks are served (Achauer, Bartlett and Allyn 1982).
Industrial chemicals Hotel and restaurant establishments share a propensity for improper storage, handling and disposal of industrial chemicals with other small enterprises. All too frequently cleaning supplies, disinfectants, pesticides and other household poisons are stored in unlabelled containers, are placed above open food containers or food preparation areas or, when used in spray form, are excessively inhaled.

Source: Compiled by the author, based on [9]

Prevention and control measures

After the stakeholders have identified the specific hazards, the next step is to determine who will be exposed to these hazards and to what extent. This will then lead to the identification of the necessary prevention and control measures, including reassessing the effectiveness of existing measures. The selection of measures has to follow a certainhierarchy to ensure that the most effective measures (e.g. avoidance and substitution) are considered first, and the least effective (e.g. personal protective equipment) are seen as the last resort. It is required to involve the workers into this risk assessment process, as they have sound knowledge about the conditions and risks at their own workplaces.

  • The avoidance of risks can include using: application of dry cleaning methods, lifting equipment, etc.
  • Substitution of hazardous substances or processes by less hazardous ones include: aqueous cleaning processes, smoke-free areas, etc.
  • The application of engineering controls include: beds with a lift mechanism, trolleys, adequate lighting, non-slip mats, machines equipped with guards, noise reduction lining of ceilings, etc.
  • The application of organisational controls include: role plays on how to deal with aggression, walking instead of running, restrictions for inexperienced workers (e.g. for handling deep fat fryers), reduce high workloads, keep fire exits clear of obstacles, etc.
  • The use of personal protection equipment (PPE) when prevention and control measures do not suffice, e.g. appropriate footwear, gloves, safety glasses and goggles, hearing protectors.
  • Training and instruction should accompany all types of measures, to ensure that workers know the new methods and processes, and have practiced them.

For more information see good practice solutions provided by EU-OSHA [10] and the prevention measures proposed by the OiRA HORECA tool[11].

Risk assessment tools

In 2009 EU-OSHA began to develop a web application (tools generator) to create interactive risk assessment tools (OiRA tools). These OiRA tools help micro and small organisations to put in place a risk assessment process – starting with the identification and evaluation of workplace risks through decision making on preventive actions and the taking of action, to monitoring and reporting.

The EU sectoral partners of the HORECA sector, the Social Partners of the European HORECA sector, EFFAT (European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions) and HOTREC (Association of Hotels, Restaurants, Pubs and Cafes) have developed an online tool that supports HORECA businesses in carrying out a risk assessment. This OiRA tool is a general EU level tool. National OiRA partners can take up this general tool and develop national tools[11].

The tool allows small companies and self-employed persons to do their legally required risk assessment in a time-effective manner and at the same time find a comprehensive inventory of up-to-date prevention and control measures, whereby they can select the most appropriate for their businesses.

Risk statements guide the user of the tool and help in identifying and assessing risks. Furthermore, the tool provides examples of control and prevention measures for setting up an action plan based on the identified risks.

The development of the OiRA tool by the EU social partners mark the commitment of the sector to address the risks in the sector.


[1] Dalhouse, N., 'Restaurants', ILO - International Labour Organization (Ed.), ''Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety'', Geneva, 2011. Available at:

[2] Eurofound. Representativeness of the European social partner organisations: Hotels, restaurants and café (HORECA) sector, 2018. Available at:

[3] EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, ''Protecting workers in hotels, restaurants and catering'', Working Environment Information, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2008. Available at:

[4] Eurostat. Three jobs out of four in services, News 2019. Available at:

[5] Eurostat. Health and Safety at Work Statistics. Available at:

[6] EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, "Work-related musculoskeletal disorders: prevalence, costs and demographics in the EU", 2019. Available at:

[7] Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs, OJL 139/1, 30.4.2004. Available at:

[8] Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 laying down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin, OJ L 139, 30.4.2004, p. 55–205. Available at:

[9] Warshaw, L.J., 'Hotels and Restaurants - Health Effects and Disease Patterns', ILO - International Labour Organization (Ed.), ''Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety'', Geneva, 2011. Available at:

[10] EU-OSHA- European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, ''Innovative solutions to safety and health risks in the construction, healthcare, and HORECA sectors'', Working Environment Information, Working Paper, 2011. Available at:

[11] OiRA tool HORECA. Available at:

Further reading

OiRA tool HORECA. Available at:

EU-OSHA- European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, ‘’Facts-79: Protecting workers in hotels, restaurants and catering’’, 2008. Available at:

Hesselink, J.K., Houtman, I., van den Berg, R., van den Bossche, S., & van den Heuvel, F., ‘EU hotel and restaurant sector: Work and employment conditions’, ‘’Eurofound Report’’, 2004. Available at:

EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, E-facts 21 - Introduction to the HORECA Sector, 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2015, from:

EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, E-facts 22 - Safety and health risks in HORECA, 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2015, from:

EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, E-facts 23 - Good practice: accident prevention in HORECA, 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2015, from:

EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, E-facts 24 - Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in HORECA, 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2015, from:

EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, E-facts 25 - Managing psychosocial risks in HORECA, 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2015, from:

EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, E-facts 26 - Dangerous substances in HORECA, 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2015, from:

EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, E-facts 27 - Hot environments in HORECA , 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2015, from:

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Karla Van den Broek

Prevent, Belgium
Klaus Kuhl
Ellen Schmitz-Felten