No one wants to go to work feeling like the environment is not safe, but, with the physically demanding, high-pressure, and high-heat conditions found in restaurant kitchens, precautions need to be taken in order to protect employees. There are also major costs involved with workplace injuries that can be a severe detriment to a restaurant. According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, restaurants are subjected to an average of four workers’ compensation claims per year per restaurant, with the average cost being $45,600 per year. “While these numbers are often rolled into the cost of doing business, the impact on the restaurant and its employees is more real when put into context. A restaurant would need to sell 3,000 quick-service meals or 1,300 casual-dining meals to cover the cost of the average workers’ compensation claim,” says David Eha, director of national accounts at Restaurant Technologies Inc. With the high turnover rate in the industry right now, providing the safest environment possible for employees can help give them reason stay. Here are a few injuries common to the restaurant industry and how to help protect employees from them.
According to Restaurant Technologies’ “Kitchen Safety 101: How to Prevent Costly Restaurant Injuries,” published in 2017, the largest percentage—22 percent—of back-of-house claims are due to cuts, lacerations, and punctures.
Peeling, mincing, and dicing are daily procedures for restaurants, especially in scratch kitchens, which continue to grow in popularity. But use of knives, along with other common equipment such as slicers, mixers, grinders, and blenders, is how most of these injuries occur. Broken dishes and glasses can also be cause for concern.
There are a couple of steps restaurants can take to help prevent such injuries. First and foremost, requiring employees to wear cut-resistant gloves as appropriate is a must. While it may be counterintuitive, sharpening blades on knives and tools can help improve the accuracy and performance of said tool, which will decrease employee strain and fatigue that can lead to injury.
Training, too, is crucial. “Provide staff with adequate training and give them protocols to act when an issue occurs,” Eha says. Employees need to learn proper technique for these tools, cutting away from the body, for instance, and the proper use of safety guards for larger equipment like slicers and mixers.
“Lastly, if you have broken or chipped dishes and glassware get rid of them,” Eha says.
The National Safety Council estimates that more than 25,000 slip and fall accidents occur every day in the U.S. “It’s important that restaurants take a proactive role in preventing them,” Eha says.
Injuries related to slips and falls from liquids, oils, grease, or food on the floor make up 20 percent of back-of-house accidents, according to “Kitchen Safety 101,” have risen 300 percent since 1980, and can cost a quick-service restaurant an average of $5,800 per claim.
Steps that can be taken to help prevent such injuries include the use of non-slip footwear, installation of non-slip flooring or rubber mats, and regularly cleaning floors to keep them free of debris, water, and grease. Taking advantage of systems that automatically rid waste like oil can be a great help, as well.
Usually the result of lifting, bending, reaching, slipping, or tripping, strains, sprains, and other soft tissue causes make up 15 percent of back-of-house accidents in restaurants, according to “Kitchen Safety 101.”
Although the storage and movement of large amounts of ingredients is a necessary element of restaurants, steps can be taken to help minimize sprain and strain risk. For example, restaurants can store heavier items between chest and knuckle height, so that they are easier on bodies to move when necessary.
Many tasks, also, can be eliminated through automation. Instead of requiring employees to manually lift 35 pounds of cooking oil during service, systems can be installed to dispose of cooking oil automatically, instead of requiring employees to lift heavy buckets. “What kind of investments can you make in technology that removes as much human element as possible to create a safer work environment?” Eha asks.
Sharing the load between two or more people or splitting the load into multiple trips is also a good precaution. And, of course, training on proper manual handling skills is critical.
Working with fire and heat in a high-pressure situation like a restaurant kitchen can lead to burns and scalds from the spilling and splashing of hot oils, food products, and beverages, as well as contact with stoves, grills, ovens, and pots. Nearly 13 percent of back-of-house accidents are burn related, “Kitchen Safety 101” says.
Steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk of such injuries include training staff to turn off stoves when not in use and move handles of pots and pans away from bodies, cleaning ventilation hoods and filters by using a ladder instead of standing on equipment and staying away from steamers and cookers under pressure. Again, automating the handling of risky substances such as cooking oil can be an easy way to reduce risk on this front, as well, and give an operator peace of mind that employees aren’t handling such heavy and dangerous materials.
In general, to prevent and reduce the risk of injuries, Eha suggests restaurants first make safety an integral part of the company’s core objectives by identifying common injuries and creating guidelines on how to avoid them, then train the staff to manage those potential risks safely. Make sure kitchen equipment is clean and maintained and consider investing in smart technologies that remove the human element altogether.
For more information about how you can make your kitchen safer, download Restaurant Technologies’ Kitchen Safety 101: How to Prevent Costly Restaurant Injuries.