Between the ovens, fryers, slicers, grills, and knives, food service businesses often subject workers to high-risk environments. However, by taking several key steps to prevent injuries on the job, you can safeguard your employees—and your business.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs provides general guidance for implementing  health and safety best practices. These programs help businesses:

  • Prevent workplace injuries and illnesses

  • Improve compliance with laws and regulations

  • Reduce costs, including significant decreasing workers’ compensation premiums

  • Enhance workers in their social responsibility

  • Increase productivity and enhance overall business operations

Why safety matters in a restaurant

For every dollar spent on a workers’ comp claim, $5 are spent in indirect costs—including lost productivity, hiring and retraining staff, and replacing or repairing damaged equipment. 

The most common injuries experienced by restaurant employees are:

  • 22 percent: Cuts, lacerations, and punctures

  • 20 percent: Slips, trips, and falls

  • 15 percent: Sprains, strains, and soft-tissue injuries

  • 13 percent: Burns and scalds

Specifically, it’s estimated that more than 3 million food service employees are injured in slip-and-fall accidents each year, costing business owners more than $2 billion annually.

Restaurants typically see four workers’ comp claims a year, with an average total cost of $45,600 per year. The good news is that only 2 percent of restaurant industry injuries are considered severe, which is defined as workers’ comp claims of $100,000 or higher.


Tips for business owners for preventing restaurant injuries

By implementing proper safety techniques, you may be able to reduce the number of workers’ comp claims—and overall costs—at your business. 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 restaurant, bakery, bar, or catering company:

  • Avoid overcrowding in the kitchen, especially near hot stoves, grills, or ovens.

  • Allow workers enough time to work safely.

  • Provide proper storage so walkways and work areas aren’t cluttered.

  • Keep electrical cords out of walkways and avoid using extension cords.

  • Make sure carpets are in good condition.

  • Rotate employees’ tasks, especially those that require using the same motion over and over.

  • Consider using mechanical equipment to do repetitive employee tasks.

  • Design the dining room and kitchen without tight or blind corners to avoid collisions.

  • Use non-slip surfaces and handrails on stairs.

  • Consider providing slip-resistant footwear to employees, 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 actually 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 work areas to limit the need for reaching and climbing by keeping the most frequently used items on most accessible shelves.

  • Provide enough ladders and footstools of the right height for the job site.

  • 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, and keep them in good condition.

  • Provide training in safe lifting methods.

  • Provide potholders, gloves, or oven mitts for use with hot equipment.

  • Provide ice scoops to minimize spills from ice machines.

  • 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.

  • Ensure that large electrical appliances have machine guards.

  • Keep cords, plugs, and outlets in good condition.

  • Make sure fire extinguishers are up to date and located in convenient locations. Ensure employees know where they are and how to use them.

  • Ensure that all automatic extinguishing systems in kitchens 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 it.

  • Place electrical equipment away from water.

  • Have more than one exit workers can reach in case of emergency, and post emergency telephone numbers.

  • Schedule at least two people per shift, especially at night.

  • Keep locks and alarmst in good condition and consider placing surveillance cameras and/or mirrors.

  • Make sure all employee injury claims are immediately investigated to help reduce  fraudulent claims.

 

Safety tips for food service workers

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.

  • Not carry more than they can handle. Employees should make extra trips if necessary or ask for help. Objects weighing more than 50 pounds require a two-person lift.

  • Lift heavy items with their legs, not their backs.

  • When setting down heavy items, they should let their leg muscles carry it down.

  • Move their feet when changing direction between tasks, not twist from the waist.

  • Turn pot handles away from burners, and make sure they don’t hang over the edge of the range.

  • Take care when removing plates from heat lamps.

  • Never leave hot oil or grease unattended.

  • Not stand too close to hot oil or lean over it.

  • Use a frying screen over pans to prevent grease splattering. If grease catches fire, they should cover the pan with a lid.

  • Use baking soda or salt on a grease fire. Never use water, flour, baking powder, or other cooking powders, which can make the fire worse.

  • Not use metal containers, foil, or utensils in a microwave oven.

  • Wash hands in hot, soapy water before and after handling food, particularly raw meats. Use paper towels to dry hands, not a dish towel.

  • Clean the sink, counter tops, or any areas that raw meat or their juices may have touched. Don’t put cooked food on an unwashed plate or a cutting board that has had raw food on it.

  • 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 the knife with the blade pointed down.

  • Let a falling knife fall. Step back, and don’t try to catch it.

  • Store plastic wrap below eye level.

  • Only use cleaning chemicals in well-ventilated areas and wash hands after using them.

  • Make sure safety guards are in place before using a machine like a slicer. Employees should use a pusher to move food, not their hands.

  • Keep their hands, face, hair, clothing, and jewelry away from moving parts of machinery.

  • Always lockout electrical equipment when cleaning or repairing it. This prevents anyone from being able to turn the machine on.

  • Keep floors dry near electrical equipment and outlets.

  • Store glasses in racks. Don’t stack them directly on top of each other.

  • Not use chipped or cracked glasses or dishware.

  • Use a dustpan and broom when cleaning up broken glass.

  • 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 wear oversized or baggy pants that could cause them to trip.

  • Store chemicals in designated storage areas below eye level.

  • Clean up spills immediately.

  • Clean floors regularly with a clean mop and the appropriate floor cleaner so grease doesn’t build up.

  • Push carts instead of pulling them, whenever possible.

Perhaps most importantly, require that all employee injuries—not matter how small—are reported immediately.

 

How to plan for the unexpected

While you can’t predict emergencies, 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 should something unexpected occur.

Every emergency plan should spell out how workers should 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. As a small business owner, you should:

  • Ensure 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 staff 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.

 

How to incentivize safety

Accidents can happen anywhere, especially in restaurants and other food service businesses. Promoting workplace safety is everyone’s job. Educate employees on 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 time 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 help save your business money and resources that can be reallocated elsewhere.

 

 

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.

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