Every holiday season, local TV morning shows remind us how to stay safe when prepping the big meal: don’t defrost the ham on the counter overnight, don’t eat raw cake batter, make sure the turkey hits 165 degrees (mom’s wrong on this one—take J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s advice: take it out when it hits 150 and let it rest).
Thankfully, this sort of food safety is second nature for any restaurant that has passed a health inspection.
On the other hand, restaurants sometimes struggle to keep up with the cornucopia of occupational safety laws and regulations. Any restaurant manager or owner who has endured an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation or had an employee seriously injured on the job knows the importance of proactively addressing safety concerns in the kitchen and throughout the restaurant.
Nobody wants an overcooked turkey, and food poisoning can knock you out of commission for a couple days, but the consequences for a restaurant on OSHA’s “naughty” list can be far more serious. OSHA can fine restaurants over $12,000 per violation for certain first-time citations, and $126,749 for each willful or repeat violation. These fines, and your associated attorneys’ fees, can add up quickly.
Here are some key steps every restaurant should take to stay on OSHA’s “nice” list and ensure a safe workplace.
Creating and Implementing a Safety Plan
Conduct a hazard assessment. The first step on the path to safety and OSHA compliance is to work with your management and safety team, as well as your employees, to identify safety and health hazards in the workplace. Common risks in practically every kitchen include:
- Burns from ovens, broilers, grills, deep fryers, microwave ovens and coffee makers
- Cuts from knives, broken glass and box cutters
- Falls due to wet or slippery floors and boxes or other obstructions in walkways and doors
- Ergonomic or lifting hazards due to high shelves, repetitive movements and awkward lifting situations
- Harmful chemicals like cleaning products
- Physical violence from robberies or assaults
Your restaurant’s hazard assessment should be continuously updated, not a one-off task. Management should regularly inspect the restaurant for safety hazards, and employees should be encouraged to report hazards.
Implement a written safety program. Once you have identified your workplace safety and health hazards, determine how to address each one. Your first goal should be to eliminate or isolate hazards or to improve your practices to isolate hazards as much as possible. For instance, you could remove a tripping hazard entirely by ensuring walkways and work areas are free of obstructions like cords and boxes. If you have a deep fryer, you could install grease pans that automatically dump grease instead of requiring employees to manually dump grease. Your written safety plan should address all identified hazards and provide clear rules and policies to address each hazard.
Injury Reporting. OSHA regulations require your restaurant to have a reasonable procedure for employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses promptly and accurately. A procedure is not reasonable if it deters or discourages a reasonable employee from accurately reporting a workplace injury or illness. Though this may seem simple, OSHA has targeted some seemingly reasonable policies, including incentive programs that reward employees for “achieving” no workplace injuries or illnesses over a period of time and policies requiring automatic post-accident drug testing of injured employees.
Train staff and management regularly. Employees, including supervisors and management, should be trained on the restaurant’s safety program before they begin working at the restaurant and regularly thereafter. Make sure to document employee safety training by requiring employees to sign acknowledgments each time they are trained.
Addressing Common Restaurant Hazards
Fire. Do not store flammable items or explosive chemicals near open flames. If your restaurant has fire extinguishers, they must be “Class K” extinguishers. The restaurant must either provide annual fire extinguisher training for all employees or develop an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) with a “Fight or Flight” policy designating specific employees to receive a simple fire extinguisher training to fight early-stage fires.
Slippery floors. Maintain, enforce and document effective policies and procedures to prevent slippery floors and trip hazards. Employees should be required to wear nonskid shoes and understand responsibilities for controlling spills in the kitchen and dining room. Use slip-resistant mats around locations with wet floors, like the dish washing area. Additionally, cleaning crews should be required to use proper cleaning materials.
Exits. Make sure all exit doors are properly marked and free from any obstructions (i.e., boxes or equipment). Any doors that are not exits but could be confused for exits should be marked “Not an Exit.” Exit doors should never be padlocked during working hours.
Electrical hazards. Don’t use extension cords for permanent electrical connections and be on the lookout for exposed wiring. Outlets and electronics in damp or wet locations should have proper enclosures.
Every restaurant’s safety program will be highly fact specific, so you should consult with legal counsel when creating and implementing your restaurant’s safety plan and policies. But with a little foresight and proper planning, you can avoid common safety issues in your restaurant and focus on the task at hand: ensuring your holiday turkey isn’t dry.
Corey Goerdt is an attorney at national labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips. He helps hospitality clients navigate all aspects of employment law.