Chinatown Restaurant Health and Safety

Health of Chinatown Restaurant Workers

Roughly one-third of adult workers in San Francisco’s Chinatown are employed in the restaurant industry (Census, 2000). Restaurant workers have the fifth highest rate of reportable nonfatal work-related injuries of any group in the nation’s workforce (BLS, 2005) and experience high levels of stress on the job (ROC-NY, 2005). Language barriers, low educational attainment, and lack of health care coverage can further compound injuries and illnesses among low-wage Chinese restaurant workers.

Collaboration Overview

Funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the “Worker Health and Safety in Chinatown Restaurants” study is a multi-year community-based participatory research (CBPR) project with the following aims:

  • To establish an effective partnership between community, university, and health department partners.
  • To conduct an ecologic investigation of Chinatown restaurant worker health and safety by collecting individual- and restaurant-level data and analyzing the associations between working conditions and workers’ health and injuries.
  • To disseminate and begin translating study findings into action to promote the occupational health of Chinatown restaurant workers.
  • To evaluate the CBPR partnership and research study using conventional and participatory methods.

The project also received funding from The California Endowment to expand training of core worker leadership group members, conduct community outreach to stakeholders such as other restaurant workers, owners, and elected officials, and develop a broader policy advocacy agenda for raising health and labor standards for restaurants.

Project Partners

Chinese Progressive Association

Labor Occupational Health Program

UC Berkeley School of Public Health

UCSF Department of Medicine, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

SFDPH Program on Health, Equity and Sustainability

Key Project Findings

Released in September 2010, Check Please! Health and Working Conditions in San Francisco Chinatown Restaurants documents the findings from the survey of over 400 Chinatown restaurant workers and SFDPH observations of 106 restaurants, as well as the vision and platform for what’s needed to improve working conditions for a healthy Chinatown. Some of the key findings include:

  • 1 out of 2 workers (50%) receive less than minimum wage
  • 1 out of 5 workers (20%) work more than 60 hours a week
  • Nearly half (48%) of workers have experienced burn injury
  • Only 3% of workers have employer provided health care
  • 42% of workers have pay deducted if they take time off sick
  • 57% of workers did not know how to report their injuries
  • 95% of workers do not receive a living wage
  • 65% of restaurants did not comply with labor law notification requirements
  • 82% of restaurants lacked fully stocked first aid kits
  • 52% of restaurants lacked anti-skid slip mats

Project Achievements

To date, the project has resulted in:

  • Worker leaders surveying over 400 restaurant workers on their physical, mental and general health; physical and psychosocial job hazards; social support; demographics and socio-economic status
  • SFDPH staff surveying over 130 Chinatown restaurants on the presence (or absence) of labor law postings and occupational hazard prevention measures such as non-slip mats and machine guards
  • Development of a strong partnership between the community advocacy organization, the local health department, academic partners and workers.
  • Training of low-wage, Chinese restaurant workers as members of the Restaurant Worker Leadership Group (RWLG) and engagement of RWLG members in survey development, analysis, outreach, capacity building, and policy development
  • A participatory evaluation process that provides opportunity for reflection among project partners about how to improve inter-group communication and action
  • The launch of a Progressive Workers’ Alliance and Low Wage Worker Bill of Rights
  • Media coverage and attention by policymakers to conditions faced by Chinatown restaurant workers
  • Internal capacity building within SFDPH to ensure that all businesses permitted through SFDPH are achieving healthy standards for workers


Throughout the “Worker Health and Safety in Chinatown Restaurants” community-based participatory research study, SFDPH has played and will continue to play the following roles:

  • Support development of the restaurant health and safety checklist survey
  • Conduct the checklist survey in all possible and applicable Chinatown restaurants
  • Synthesize and share checklist survey findings with project partners, restaurant inspectors, the Restaurant Worker Leadership Group, and other relevant stakeholders
  • Participate in ongoing project steering committee meetings and participatory project evaluation
  • Provide technical assistance and support networking with other city agency staff to project partners in the policy committee and other relevant committees
  • Explore roles for SFDPH and other city and state agencies to collaboratively support compliance and enforcement of labor standards

Learn More About the Project

To read the "Check Please!" report and other supporting reports, search the Document Library and Peer Review Publications. Additional information resources are below.

Check Please! Executive Summary in English

Check Please! Executive Summary in Chinese

Check Please! Executive Summary in Spanish

Research Crossroads Project Description

Check, Please! Media Coverage:

For additional media coverage of the report, please visit CPA's newsroom.


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , DrPH Principal Investigator UC Berkeley School of Public Health

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , Lead Organizer, Chinese Progressive Association