Bars, taverns, and pubs are usually places filled with laughter and merriment. On occasions however, broken glass, slippery floors, and intense noise can create a high-risk environment for employees on the job. By taking steps to prevent workplace injuries, you can help safeguard your employees—and your business.
Ensuring safety at your bar, tavern, or pub
For every dollar spent on a workers’ comp claim, $5 are spent in indirect costs, like lost productivity, hiring and retraining staff, and replacing or repairing damaged equipment. The most common injuries experienced by bartenders are:
Cuts and wounds
Slips and falls
Mixology can cause repetitive-stress injuries
Did you know that bartenders can develop carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, and rotator cuff issues? The popularity of America’s cocktail culture means more shaking, mixing, and bottle twisting. Bartenders shake each cocktail 30 to 40 times and repeat the process throughout their shifts. It’s no wonder that many of them are sustaining repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) to their wrists, shoulders, and backs.
RSIs are common when a person performs the same movement repeatedly. There are more than 25 bones in the hand that are connected to muscles, tendons, and nerves. When your hand performs the same motion over and over, that movement can put stress on the tendons and joints.
Since bartenders are at risk for developing RSIs, it’s important that your employees know the symptoms. Symptoms may include pain, swelling, tingling, numbness, stiffness, weakness, or heat/cold sensitivity in the hands, wrists, elbows, or shoulders. In addition to RSIs, most bartenders are on their feet for 8 to 12 hours a shift, lifting heavy cases of liquor, beer, and ice.
Injury-prevention tips for bar owners
By implementing proper safety techniques, you may be able to reduce the number of workers’ comp claims at your establishment. Be sure that all employees, even part-time help and trainees, are well trained on safety procedures.
Here are some tips to help keep your workers safe at your bar, tavern, or pub:
Avoid overcrowding behind the bar.
Provide proper storage so the area behind that bar isn’t cluttered.
Use non-slip surfaces on floors.
Require employees to wear slip-resistant footwear since it can reduce as much as 75 percent of work-related slips and falls.
Establish a floor-cleaning schedule.
Consider testing the wet static coefficient of friction (SCOF) of your floors.
Only use wet floor signs when floors are wet. Employees may ignore signs if they are used in areas that aren’t wet. OSHA recommends yellow signs that are visible from 360 degrees.
Design workspaces so the most frequently used items are on the most accessible shelves.
Provide adequate ladders and footstools to reach high spaces safely.
Maintain good lighting in work, delivery, and storage areas.
Clearly mark one trash can for broken glass and sharp can lids.
Provide smaller bus pans and trays to avoid overfull loads.
Provide hand trucks and other lifting devices to transport kegs, bottles, and cases.
Provide training in safe lifting methods.
Provide ice scoops to minimize contamination and spills.
Train employees in knife skills, including which knife to use, how to use it, and proper maintenance and storage.
Provide box cutters, goggles, and cut-resistant gloves for added safety.
Keep cords, plugs, and outlets in good condition.
Place electrical equipment away from water.
Make sure fire extinguishers are up to date and located in convenient locations. Ensure employees know where they are and how to use them.
If food is prepared in your bar, ensure that all automatic extinguishing systems in the kitchen are inspected and that hood and ducts are professionally cleaned at least twice a year.
Store cleaning supplies and other chemicals in their original containers away from food and heat sources.
Make safety information available for each chemical used in the workplace and ensure employees know where to find them.
Have more than one exit that workers can reach in case of emergency, and post emergency telephone numbers in multiple locations.
Schedule at least two people per shift, especially at night.
Have working locks and alarms kept in good condition, and consider adding surveillance cameras and/or mirrors.
Make sure only designated, trained staff provide first aid and make sure everyone knows who those employees are.
Have first aid kits, gloves, and other protective equipment available for the staff who are designated to provide first aid. Lacerations and puncture wounds should be immediately treated and disinfected to prevent infection.
Train designated staff on each shift to provide first aid for burns. First aid is the best way to minimize the damage caused by a burn.
Make sure workers know how to report an incident where there is exposure to blood.
Perhaps most importantly, require that all employee injuries—no matter how small—are reported ASAP.
Safety tips for bartenders
Train and remind your employees to:
Take a few moments during their shifts to stretch or take breaks, especially if they spend a lot of time carrying loads, bending, reaching, or repeating the same motions. Neck shrugs, shoulder stretches, forearm stretches and twists, and torso twists can be helpful. Allow frequent breaks for joints, muscles, and tendons to relax.
Not carry more than they can handle. Make extra trips if necessary or ask for help. Objects weighing more than 50 pounds require a two-person lift.
Lift cases, kegs, ice, and other heavy loads with their legs and wear a back brace if needed.
When setting down heavy items, they should let their leg muscles carry it down.
Store glasses in racks. Don’t stack them directly on top of each other.
Not to use chipped or cracked glasses or dishware.
If glass breaks, wrap up the broken glass and shards and discard in trash.
Use a dustpan and broom when cleaning up broken glass.
Ensure no glass has fallen into coolers or ice bins.
Move their feet when changing direction between tasks, not twist from the waist.
Try to vary the hand used for shaking or pouring drinks to allow muscles and joints to rest a bit.
Switch the order that tasks are done to avoid repeatedly doing the same activities in the same exact pattern.
Try shaking cocktails at chest or waist height instead of over the head or shoulder.
Use an arm brace if needed.
Move their arms instead of their wrists when opening bottles to avoid wrist injuries.
Where possible, avoid bending the wrist unnecessarily. For example, when pouring, try pouring with the full arm instead of just bending the wrist. It may feel weird at first, but it can reduce the stress on the wrist.
Use cocktail shakers away from their ears.
Wash hands thoroughly after handling acidic ingredients like lemons and limes to avoid skin irritation.
Stand away from speakers if possible, or use foam ear plugs when appropriate.
Take care when removing plates from heat lamps.
Use baking soda or salt on a grease fire, not water, flour, baking powder, or other cooking powders, which can make the fire worse.
Never leave knives soaking in water.
Place a damp cloth under the cutting board to keep it from moving.
Pass a knife to another person by laying it on a counter, or pass it with the blade pointed down.
Don’t try to catch a falling knife.
Only use cleaning chemicals in well-ventilated areas and wash hands after using them.
Warn other workers when walking behind them, using warnings like “behind you,” “coming through,” or “hot plate.”
Wear non-skid, closed-toe waterproof shoes with low heels.
Not to wear over-sized or baggy pants that could cause them to trip.
Keep floors dry near electrical equipment and outlets.
Clean up spills immediately.
Wash floors regularly with a clean mop and the appropriate floor cleaner.
How to plan for the unexpected
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs provides general guidance for implementing a health and safety program. While you can’t plan for every type of emergency, every workplace should have a plan for dealing with a variety of scenarios, including medical emergencies, fires, floods, chemical spills, and robberies. All workers should be trained on what’s in the plan and what they should do specifically in the case of an emergency.
Every workplace should at least have a plan for handling injuries. The plan should spell out how workers can report injuries and how to get help promptly. It should designate which staff members are trained to provide first aid and explain how to contact medical personnel if needed.
How to incentivize safety
Accidents can happen anywhere, especially in bars, taverns, and pubs. Promoting workplace safety is everyone’s job. Remind employees why safety training is important, and provide continual reminders and retraining.
To help encourage your employees to make safety a priority at work, consider offering prizes or awards for those who follow the safety program and hit milestones while remaining injury-free. Prizes like lottery scratch-offs, coffee gift cards, or 30 minutes of extra PTO can help motivate your team. Remember, fewer workplace injuries and workers’ comp claims can save your business money—and take care of your greatest asset: your people.
Thanks for reading! Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As best practices change regularly, you should refer to your trusted advisor for specific counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workplace safety or check your workers’ comp rate in 3 minutes.