How to lower your risk of restaurant injuries and illness
As a tribal restaurant owner or manager, you’re already aware of the direct costs of an injury or illness, such as higher workers’ benefit premiums. On the other hand, you may not be fully aware of the hidden costs. Besides the medical costs of an injured employee, one lost workday injury may result in loss of productivity, time and costs to hire or retrain a replacement employee. Time and costs to repair or replace equipment may be necessary. Finally, add to that list reduced employee morale.
Some hazards in restaurants are easy for workers to spot: A hot stove can burn a hand. A ham slicer could cut fingers. Some hazards are less visible and, on the surface, may not be recognized as hazards, such as the repetitive motion from chopping vegetables all day, lifting heavy trays, or daily using strong cleaning products that may cause lung damage. OSHA segments restaurant job hazards into these three categories: Safety hazards which cause immediate accidents and injuries (think: knives, ovens or slippery floors that can result in burns, cuts or broken bones). Ergonomic hazards cause sprains and strains, such as doing repetitive tasks or heavy lifting. Other health hazards are additional workplace conditions that can make an employee sick, such as noise, chemicals, heat or stress.
According to Cal/OSHA, the predominant restaurant hazards causing serious accidents are:
- Burns (18 percent)
- Falls (13 percent)
- Amputations (8 percent)
- Chemical exposures (6 percent)
- And to a lesser extent, lacerations, crushing, electric shock and vehicle accidents
By integrating these five steps towards safety and health into the overall management of your eatery, you can reduce the risk of injury-related losses.
1. Your frontline defense against restaurant injuries and illness
Management is responsible for ensuring that all safety and health policies and procedures are clearly communicated and understood by all employees. Supervision and lead personnel are expected to enforce the rules fairly and uniformly. All employees are responsible for using safe work practices, for following all directives, policies and procedures, and for assisting in maintaining a safe work environment.
Your managers and supervisors are responsible to evaluate the safety performance of all workers. They should recognize employees who perform safe and healthful work practices (positive reinforcement). They need to also provide training and re-training to workers whose safety performance is deficient, and discipline workers for failure to comply with safe and healthful work practices.
2. Assessing your workplace for hazards
Periodic inspections will help you uncover workplace hazards and evaluate how best to eliminate them. These safety inspections should be performed by the restaurant supervisor:
- At least weekly or at the supervisor’ discretion, depending on conditions and activities. Additional daily checks should be made at the beginning of the day’s work.
- When new substances, procedures or equipment that present potential new hazards are introduced into your workplace
- When new, previously unidentified hazards are recognized
- When occupational injuries and illnesses occur
- When workers are hired and/or reassigned, explaining new processes, operations or tasks for which a hazard evaluation has not been previously conducted
- Whenever workplace conditions warrant an inspection
3. How to communicate your safety plan to prevent restaurant injuries and illness
First, it’s important to have clearly defined restaurant and kitchen-specific health and safety rules that are enforced consistently. Next, it’s best to incorporate your safety plan into new worker and temporary employee orientation. Your discussion of restaurant and kitchen health and safety policies and procedures should include a Q & A time for new workers to get clarification, since many will be new to the restaurant business. Provide for language translation if necessary. Their supervisor will need to follow up with them to ensure workers are incorporating their training into their daily tasks.
Reinforce your training with posted safety information.
Safety meetings should be held consistently; frequency may vary, depending on the identification of hazards or occurrence of injuries and illnesses. You may also want to consider a system for workers to anonymously inform management about workplace hazards.
4. Conduct training to prevent restaurant injuries and illness
Your training should include
- An emergency action plan and fire prevention plan, along with measures for reporting any unsafe conditions, work practices, injuries and when additional instruction is needed.
- Use of appropriate clothing, including gloves, footwear, and personal protective equipment.
- Information about chemical hazards to which employees could be exposed and other hazard communication program information.
- Availability of toilet, hand-washing and drinking water facilities.
- Provisions for medical services and first aid, including emergency procedures
When should you train?
- When new and temporary workers are onboarded
- When workers are given new job assignments for which training has not previously provided
- Whenever a new hazard is recognized due to the introduction of new substances, processes, procedures or equipment to the workplace
- Whenever you become aware of a new or previously unrecognized hazard
5. Restaurant injury investigation and mitigation
Investigation of workplace accidents, hazardous substance exposures and near-miss incidents will be done by your manager and supervisor, reviewing the scene as soon as possible. Interview affected workers and witnesses, with the goal being fact-finding, not fault-finding. Once they’ve determined the causes of the accident/exposure/near-miss incident, your team can take corrective action to prevent restaurant injuries and illness.
Download this restaurant safety checklist can help you jumpstart creating your plan to lower your risk of restaurant injuries and illness. The checklist is part of a 44-page restaurant worker manual created as a joint project of the Labor Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley and Young Workers United.