Employee safety is important for a number of reasons. The most important, of course, is the health and safety of the employees, but other concerns include workers’ compensation claims, expenses, and reduced productivity and morale.
Rebecca Shafer, president of Amaxx Risk Solutions, says restaurants have a higher-than-average percentage of claims due to cuts, slips and falls, and strains. “Medical benefit costs tend to be below average due to the minor nature of most injuries, and permanent partial disability benefits occur infrequently, especially in restaurants with good morale and loyalty of family operations,” she says.
According to Larry Gallagher, director of corporate loss control for Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company in Iowa, the most frequent types of employee injuries in family-style restaurants are slips, trips, falls, and finger and hand lacerations. Slips, trips, and falls typically occur on wet floors, but they also occur near changes of elevation, such as stairs and ramps, and floor transition areas, such as where a tile floor and carpet meet. Finger and hand lacerations occur from the use and cleaning of knives and meat-slicer equipment.
Although these injuries can result in significant losses, back and shoulder sprains and strains from lifting are frequently associated with the most severe losses at family-style restaurants, according to Gallagher.
“When employees are injured and unable to complete their duties, productivity may decrease or other workers may be tasked with additional duties as they fill in for injured colleagues,” adds David Quezada, vice president of loss control for Employers, a workers’ compensation insurance carrier serving small businesses. “Workplace injuries can also have a negative impact on morale and insurance premiums for restaurants.”
How to Create a Proactive Workplace Safety Program
According to Quezada, workplace safety begins with a strategic approach to risk management. “Full-service restaurants can achieve this through a multi-pronged approach,” he says.
The first step is to identify and assess potential hazards. “Business owners and managers should take the time to identify and document potential hazards, as well as put proper safety procedures in place before employees use any equipment or materials,” Quezada says.
Documentation is especially important because it establishes a record that can be referenced in the event of an inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or an insurance audit. Restaurants should establish proactive measures to help control these risks, such as requiring employees to wear rubber-soled shoes.
Secondly, restaurants should provide education and training. Employers must regularly provide their workers with training and information about injury- and illness-prevention programs. Training should include how to identify potential hazards, how to prevent common accidents, and what to do if an injury occurs.
In addition to conducting regular safety training, educational sessions should also be held whenever new substances, processes, procedures, or equipment are introduced into the workplace.
The third step to manage safety is to enlist management and employee participation. Employees at all levels should be involved in establishing, implementing, and evaluating safety programs, according to Quezada. “Managers should be held accountable for workplace safety and encouraged to lead by example,” he says.
Finally, restaurants should evaluate the program’s effectiveness, just as all business owners routinely evaluate workplace safety programs. “Reviews should be completed at least once a year, and whenever new or previously unknown hazards are discovered,” Quezada advises.
Dealing with Slips, Cuts, and Strains
Gallagher at Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company recommends a three-tiered approach to ensuring employee safety.
The first is slip, trip, and fall prevention. This includes requiring that spills be cleaned up immediately; installing rubber mats to provide non-slip surfaces in areas where wet floors are likely to exist (such as near food-prep areas, refrigeration equipment, and sinks); and requiring staff to wear shoes with non-slip soles in all areas of the restaurant.
The second is finger- and hand-laceration prevention. This includes providing training to all staff on the safe use of knives, slicers, and any other sharp utensil; wearing cut-resistant gloves when operating slicers and cleaning blades and knives; and storing knives and blades on magnetic racks secured to the wall or on shelves with knife racks. Gallagher says employees should not store knives and blades with other utensils in drawers.
The third is back and shoulder sprain and strain prevention. This includes providing training to staff on proper lifting techniques, ordering supplies in small containers that staff can easily handle, and providing two-wheel carts and related equipment to limit the manual lifting of delivery containers.