Workplace injuries can be devastating for full-service restaurants and other small businesses. In fact, a recent survey by EMPLOYERS found that 35 percent of small businesses cite workplace safety as one of the top risks that concerns them.1 Not only are workplace injuries bad for morale and productivity, they can also be costly in terms of out-of-pocket expenses and potentially higher insurance premiums for restaurants.
Strategic risk management and workplace safety are vital to maximizing business performance. By investing proactively in safety and training programs, full-service restaurant owners and managers can reduce workplace accidents, mitigate costs, potentially increase employee retention, and improve work productivity. Not only do these programs protect a restaurant’s most important asset—its employees—they can result in real bottom-line operational and cost benefits.
Take a Strategic Approach
So how can restaurants take a strategic approach to risk management? A good place to start is by understanding workers’ compensation insurance and how to maximize that investment.
Workers’ compensation insurance covers employers for their statutory and legal obligations for employee expenses that are a direct result of on-the-job injuries or illnesses. While plans differ within and among states, workers’ compensation benefits can include weekly payments in place of wages and reimbursement for payment of medical and rehabilitation expenses. Depending upon the jurisdiction, business owners can obtain their workers’ compensation protection from private insurance companies, state insurance funds, self-insurance, or self-insured groups.
By taking a strategic approach to managing workplace safety risks and preventing on-the-job injuries or illnesses, businesses can achieve significant gains. Businesses can substantially decrease their workers’ compensation insurance premium costs as well as protect their employees. They may also experience fewer overtime costs and employees may be more productive. When employees are injured and unable to perform their duties, operations can be strained and other employees may be tasked with additional duties as they fill in for their injured co-workers. This may involve overtime pay, temporary workers, or in some cases hiring a new full-time employee.
Restaurant managers should actively analyze various work-related functions and workspaces to anticipate and prevent injuries. They should also make sure all employees have a good understanding of the hazards in their workplace environment.
Some of the simplest proactive measures managers can implement include requiring employees to wear proper footwear with rubber soles for better traction on slippery surfaces and investing in slip-resistant flooring or using anti-skid adhesive tape in high-traffic areas.
It is also important to be aware of common safety threats that are job-specific. For example, kitchen personnel are at high risk of injuries caused by slips, trips, and falls due to wet surfaces, as well as cuts from sharp objects and burns caused by hot surfaces, liquids, or steam.
Wait staff must navigate high-traffic and fast-paced environments, often while carrying heavy trays stacked with hot plates or breakable glass. This environment puts them at risk for a number of accidents. Not only are they at risk of bumping into each other or patrons, they are also at risk of slips, trips, and falls due to slippery or uneven surfaces. Additionally, wait staff and bussers are prone to injuries resulting from repetitive motions, lifting, or bending. Repeatedly carrying heavy trays, for example, can lead to sprained wrists or even carpal tunnel syndrome.
Once risks are identified, policies and procedures need to be established so employees have the resources and tools to do their jobs safely.
If their restaurant does not yet have one in place, managers should establish and implement an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP). Many independent insurance agents and workers’ compensation insurance carriers can provide ready-made safety materials that include resources such as safety posters, payroll stuffers, and written safety policies.
Provide Education and Training
Proper training in any workplace is critical, but it is not often given the attention it deserves. Employees need to be regularly reminded of the importance of workplace safety training.
This is especially critical in the restaurant industry, where many inexperienced, young workers first enter the workforce. In fact, another recent study by EMPLOYERS found that 13 percent of small businesses that planned to hire student workers the summer of 2014 were for restaurant or foodservice positions. Out of all small businesses polled, more than one out of four (27 percent) said they did not offer workplace safety training for new student workers. Among those who offered it, only half (52 percent) said that it was required.2
Training should start during each new employee orientation and be reinforced regularly. Additionally, training sessions should be held whenever new substances, processes, procedures, or equipment are introduced into the workplace. The sessions should include how to identify potential hazards, how to prevent common accidents, and how to respond if someone gets hurt. Workers must be trained in a language that they understand, especially in a bilingual workplace.
Qualified managers and human resources staff can lead employee safety training. Third-party safety professionals and industry associations can also be leveraged. These types of resources can be beneficial to developing effective restaurant workplace safety programs, since they can provide additional insight into ways to avoid injuries, such as improved processes for changing frying oil to reduce the risk of burns.
Leadership should equip their staff with written material on the workplace safety policies in their employee handbooks. Posters and materials explaining workplace safety and fair employment practices are available from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Posters should be displayed and accessible to all employees as reminders of the restaurant’s safety priorities and procedures.
Workers should also be provided with tools to do their jobs efficiently and safely. Restaurants should make sure that protective clothing, such as gloves and aprons, are available and used by those using deep fryers or stovetops, for example.
Commit to Enforcing Safety
Once safety policies are in place and employees are aware of them, management should enforce rules and lead by example. OSHA can fine businesses significant amounts of money for safety violations, so enforcement is as much a proactive cost-savings measure as it is about protecting employees and creating accountability. Routine workplace safety audits, meetings, and annual training sessions are proven ways to enforce safety rules.
Management must remain vigilant in insisting that employees follow safety policies and procedures. Enforce rules such as requiring rubber soled shoes, cleaning up spills as soon as they happen, and keeping walkways as unobstructed as possible. To help enforce rules, management should establish clear consequences for first violations as well as repeat violations. Disciplinary measures should be used consistently; otherwise, employees may not take warnings seriously. Additionally, if violations go unaddressed by management, employees who make an effort to adhere to policies may begin to grow complacent in their practices or even become resentful, negatively impacting workplace morale.
Evaluate Program Effectiveness
Restaurant owners must routinely evaluate their workplace safety program. Annual reviews should be completed whenever new or previously unknown hazards are discovered. High-performing businesses recognize safety as a core value and integrate a strategic approach to workplace safety as a core business function.
By involving employees at all levels within the organization and focusing on injury and accident prevention, restaurant managers can keep their most important assets—their employees—safe, while simultaneously maximizing their long-term business performance.
1 EMPLOYERS, “Workplace Safety Is Top Risk Concern for Small Businesses in 2014, Survey Finds,” February 26, 2014. http://www.employers.com/AGENTS/BLOG/post/2014/02/26/Workplace-Safety-Is-Top-Risk-Concern.aspx
2 EMPLOYERS, “Only 1 in 5 Small Businesses are Hiring Student Workers This Summer,” June 24, 2014. http://investor.eig.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=204727&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1942147&highlight
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