Workplace injuries hurt your team and your restaurant budget.

The Recipe for Safety: How to Avoid the Most Common Restaurant Injuries

Tips for reducing employee injuries

Full-service restaurants are not immune to workplace injuries. In fact, the restaurant and food service industry saw more than 190,000 injuries in 2014, resulting in more than 9,000 days away from work for injured employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 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 the business.

What can restaurant owners and managers do to help protect their employees and mitigate the costs associated with work-related injuries? Invest in a workplace safety program.

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 and managers can help reduce the risk of workplace injuries, control related costs, and potentially increase worker productivity.

The first and most important part of establishing a safety program is to identify risks and determine how to avoid them. Below are four common hazards OSHA has identified for restaurant workers. 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.

1. Strains and Sprains

Waiters, waitresses, and bussers are at high risk for neck, back, and shoulder strains as a result of assuming awkward postures while serving patrons 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.

To help workers avoid strains and sprains, managers should focus on training employees on 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. Shoulders, arms, and hands should be in a neutral position close to the body and the loads of the tray should be balanced evenly to help avoid strains. If space permits, managers may 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.

2. Burns

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.

Restaurant managers are encouraged to train all employees how to operate equipment that is frequently used to make hot beverages, including coffee and espresso makers. Trays should also be supplied for servers carrying hot plates, and servers should be encouraged to use a dry cloth or hot pads to protect their arms or hands when carrying hot items.

Since burns are so common, all employees should be trained in basic first aid to treat them.

3. Slips, Trips, and Falls

Slips, trips, and falls are also common hazards in restaurants. Non-slip mats can be used in areas that are prone to spills, such as around ice machines, sinks, and cook stations. It’s important to immediately clean any spills as well as to place proper signage in areas with slick floors.

Walking on uneven floors or making the change from tile to carpet 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.

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) can be installed to reduce the likelihood of employees colliding with each other.

4. Cuts and Lacerations

Knives and glassware are essential tools in most restaurants, elevating the risk of someone getting cut with a sharp blade or broken glass.

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.

Similarly, servers should be trained on how 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. Instead, servers should be instructed to use a plastic or metal ice scoop to scoop ice into a beverage glass.

By taking a strategic approach to safety, identifying hazards, training employees and enforcing safety protocols, restaurant owners and managers can help protect their greatest assets, their employees, and mitigate the costs associated with employee injuries. 

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