When you own or manage a restaurant, not only do you have to pay attention to your guests’ experience – the food, ambiance, presentation, etc. – but you must always keep the health and safety of your employees in mind, as well. As a business owner, the safety of those you employ – from kitchen workers and cooks, to front-of-the-house waiters and bartenders– should always be a top priority, and you must ensure that you have the right equipment on hand to keep your staff safe and sound.
Reducing Restaurant Workplace Injuries: Top Priority
The most common injuries among restaurant employees are cuts and lacerations: 22%; slips, trips, and falls: 20%; sprains, strains, and soft-tissue injuries: 15%; burns and scalds: 13%. Only 2 percent of restaurant-industry injuries are severe, but severe injuries (with a claim of $100,000 or more) account for 41% of every dollar spent on workers’ compensation losses.
Workplace injuries not only impact the injured employee, they can also result in lost productivity, potentially higher insurance premiums, and costly out-of-pocket expenses for you – the restaurant owner. Providing staff with the proper restaurant equipment and supplies is vital for ensuring the wellbeing and safety of your employees. When you better understand the common dangers in your restaurant, you can strive to have a positive impact on the overall safety of your restaurant and better manage the costs and profitability of your business.
The Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) estimates that business owners can expect to save four to six dollars for every one dollar invested in a safety program. By fostering a culture of safety in their restaurants, owners can help reduce the risk of workplace injuries, control related costs, and potentially increase worker productivity. The most important part of establishing a safety program is to identify risks and determine how to avoid them. By being aware of these hazards and the common ways restaurant workers get hurt on the job, restaurant owners and managers can implement the right counter-measures to reduce these risks.
Common Restaurant Injuries
Anything hot, heavy, slippery, or sharp can be a hazard in the kitchen if improperly handled, and preventing injuries should be a paramount concern. Common injuries that occur in a restaurant are as follows:
Whether preparing or serving hot foods or drinks, carrying hot plates, or reaching over candles on tables, restaurant workers are often exposed to the risk of getting burned. According to the National Safety Council, about 12,000 restaurant-kitchen burn injuries are reported each year. Regardless of the cause – heat/fire, boiling liquids, or grease – burns can create extensive scarring, trauma, and disfigurement. Ensuring that your kitchen staff is alert and attentive to their surroundings is the simplest way keep staff safe from burn risks in your establishment.
Grease-related burns can occur when adding frozen foods to hot oil, from splatters when adding or removing food, or when filtering/changing grease. Allow only trained employees to use a deep fryer, and only with proper protective equipment. Clearly post all procedures specific to the equipment in use. It is important to take preventative measures to avoid these types of injuries and to provide workers with the correct tools and equipment. Workers should always use protective gear, like aprons and mitts. To avoid the danger of burns that result from splashing grease, kitchen staff should use a deep-frying basket to lower the food into the oil, and be careful to only fill the fry tank halfway. Using splash guards, which protect workers from searing hot splashing oil, are also helpful in preventing burn injuries.
Slips, Trips, and Falls
Slips, trips, and falls are also common hazards in restaurants. Walking on uneven floors or walking from tiled to carpeted areas when entering the dining area from the kitchen, can also cause busy employees to stumble. In addition, working in congested areas while carrying dishes around blind corners, or going through a single door to and from the kitchen, can lead to injury-causing collisions.
These common hazards can be avoided by immediately cleaning any spills, as well as by placing proper signage in areas with slick floors. By making sure all floors remain clean and dry, and passageways and walkways are kept free of clutter and congestion, restaurant managers can help reduce the risk of slips, trips, and falls. Mirrors and two-way doors (one for going in and the other for coming out) should be installed to reduce the likelihood of employees colliding with each other.
Safeguard against slippery floors by keeping floors clean and uncluttered and, where necessary, treating floors with slip-resistant coatings or chemical treatments. Choose floor cleaning chemicals with effective grease-removal and slip-resistance properties. When spills occur, clean them up immediately and place “caution” or “wet floor” signs until the floor is dry. Wet floor signs alert people that the floor is wet, so they can avoid these areas or take extra caution when walking in these spots.
Ice machines can also create fall hazards because of the large volume of water they use. Place rubber or fabric-faced mats in front of ice machines, unless they introduce an additional tripping hazard. Make sure that all ice machines and freezer doors seal properly to prevent water from leaking or freezing on the floor.
Slip-resistant mats are ideal for kitchen floors or other high traffic areas in the restaurant where there is a greater possibility for slips and falls (i.e. front entrance/exit). These rubber mats not only offer better foot grip but provide a softer and more comfortable walking surface that gives the feet, knees, and other joints better protection from strains and other similar injuries.
Strains and Sprains
Since it is common for foodservice employees to move heavy loads – sometimes in excess of 50 pounds – employees should know how to safely lift heavy loads in order to reduce potential back injuries. Train employees to lift with their legs, take small steps, and change direction by moving their feet, not twisting, when handling heavy items. Use a cart or dolly to lift extra heavy loads.
Waiters, waitresses, and bussers are at high risk for neck, back, and shoulder strains as a result of awkward postures while serving and clearing tables. Strains and sprains can also be caused by balancing or lifting too many plates or glasses at once, lifting overfilled containers, and moving tables and chairs to accommodate customers. If loads are not handled properly, employees may suffer from overexertion when the load that is lifted, carried, pushed, or pulled, exceeds the limits of the human joint system doing the work.
To help workers avoid strains and sprains, managers should focus on training employees as to the proper ways to carry and lift heavy items. For example, carrying plates with your elbows close to your body can help lessen the strain on the arms and back; and, when loading trays, attention should be paid to balancing the load evenly to help avoid strains. If space permits, consider providing serving carts to carry food or installing a server’s station close to the serving area to help reduce the distance items need to be carried.
In storage areas, place frequently used and medium-weight products on shelves located around the “power zone” (that area between the thighs and the chest) where you have the most control over lifting an object. Light items and those not frequently used should be stored on higher shelves. Employees should use a step ladder or stool to access these items (and not a precarious, makeshift platform).
During cooking or cleaning, staff members’ eyes become vulnerable to splashes of grease, sanitizing chemicals, and ingredients. Employees should exercise caution when cleaning workspaces, and they should wear protective safety glasses when washing dishes or cleaning up broken glass.
Cuts and Lacerations
Knives and glassware are essential tools in most restaurants, yet they increase the risk of someone getting cut with a sharp blade or a piece of broken glass. Knives, mandolins, and other cutting utensils pose other threats for injury when used incorrectly or haphazardly. To help avoid the risk of a cut or laceration, knives should be kept sharpened and in good condition. Workers need to be informed when knives have been newly sharpened, and they should be regularly reminded how to safely handle and store knives and other sharp equipment.
Below are a few tips for cut prevention.
- Use the correct knife for the job. Use carving knives for large jobs, boning knives to remove meat from the bone, and paring knives for small slicing jobs.
- Use cutting boards for the appropriate food product, and to control the movement of food.
- Use a fork or a similar device to hold down prepared food when cutting.
- Keep knives sharp, as dull blades can lead to over-exertion and fatigue.
- When using machinery with sharp parts, such as a food processor, ensure safety guards are in place. Use any safety equipment required for the equipment in use, and keep fingers away from slicers and grinders.
Similarly, servers should be trained to handle glassware carefully and properly. For example, glasses should not be used to scoop ice for beverages. The ice could cause chips in the glass resulting in sharp edges that can not only injure workers, but patrons as well.
The Well-Dressed – and Safe – Restaurant Employee
Restaurant wear that can help safeguard staff from unnecessary injury are:
Dishwashing gloves: Helps to protect workers hands from hot water, as well as from abrasive chemicals that may be found in soaps and sanitizers.
Cut-resistant gloves: Made from special, strong materials helps prevent skin from being accidentally sliced by sharp knives.
Freezer gloves: Insulated gloves with good grips designed to shield the hands from frostbite, which can be a potential problem when spending a significant time in freezers or walk in refrigeration storage units.
Oven Mitts: Prevents burns — primarily used for placing and removing hot items from ovens or stove tops, handling hot plates, or dealing with other hot food items
Aprons: Not only does this piece of restaurant attire help keep a worker’s uniform clean, but it also provides an additional barrier between the employee’s body and dangerous substances, such as chemicals, hot grease, and oils.
Anti-slip shoes: The floors in a kitchen restaurant are often slippery due to regular water and grease spills. Wearing safety footwear helps provide employees with a better grip, assisting in the prevention of slipping and falling.
Provide Your Employees with Safety Equipment
While training and preparation are important for restaurant safety, some tasks are best performed with protective equipment. It’s vital that you provide these items to your staff to keep them safe in your restaurant. By taking a strategic approach to safety by identifying hazards, training employees and enforcing safety protocols, restaurant owners can help protect their greatest assets, their employees, and mitigate the costs associated with employee injuries.