9 ways to protect your brand, employees from injuries


January 1, 2019

By Mark Copeland, Restaurant Technologies

This article originally appeared on FastCasual.com, August 2018. Click here to view.

Worker CompWorking in a restaurant is a physically demanding job. Employees are constantly on the move, facing a multitude of hazards that can result in injuries ranging from minor cuts and strains to significant burns and worse. In addition to the harm incurred by your valuable team members, injuries in the back-of-house are also costly. In fact, the average annual workers' compensation claim per restaurant is $45,600, with New York having the largest average cost-incurred at $239,257. Indirect costs such as staff replacement and training, operations and admin fees can total from $70,000 to $117,000 per claim. Furthermore, such injuries and downtime hurt employee retention and morale.

Understanding what dangers lurk inside the restaurant is imperative to keeping employees happy and safe, and that translates to good business.

The Culprits

Restaurants and other foodservice operators employ more than 14 million people — that's 14 million opportunities for injuries. While many safety hazards exist in foodservice, cooking oil overwhelmingly stands apart as a costly and frequent hazard with more than 60 percent of back-of-house worker's compensation claims linked to cooking oil.

Frying oil temperatures sometimes reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and in a fast-paced environment, oil splashing and spilling can happen easily. In addition to burns, more than 25,000 slips and falls occur every day in the U.S., frequently caused by some type of liquid, such as oil, or other substance on the floor. In a foodservice environment, slips and falls most frequently happen near sinks and fryer vats where grease and moisture can collect.

he less obvious injuries that can happen in a restaurant's back-of-house include sprains, strains and other injuries from lifting. For example, lifting and transporting 35-pound jugs of frying oil — the standardized weight for the industry — is often the culprit of back problems. These accidents can result in soft tissue injuries and strains, resulting in extremely high medical costs and wage replacement. According to Willis Group, lost time plus major permanent disability claims average around $156,993 if they result in a permanent disability.

How to address these issues

OSHA indicates that for every $1 spent on employee safety programs, businesses can save $4 to $6 in costs associated with injuries and fatalities. Simply put: Prioritizing safety is a must to maintain a viable, successful business with satisfied employees who enjoy — and more importantly, are able to safely perform — their work each day.

Here are the nine ways you can better prepare your back-of-house:

  • Proper training: Safety first, last and always should be a mantra for every restaurant. Your food can be outstanding and your patrons happy, but if you don't have employees working safely, you may not have a business for long. Provide employees proper safety training, and do refresher trainings on a regular basis. Stress that a busy kitchen can be hazardous, and being busy isn't permission to throw safety protocols to the wind.
  • Personal protective gear: Supplemental to proper safety training are the tools used to keep employees safe. Safety shoes, gloves, hats and aprons are simple and straightforward tools well worth the investment to keep you staff safe.
  • Easily accessible mops and buckets: Restaurant employees cannot sacrifice safety for speed. Too often, spills and messes are left unaddressed so that employees can continue cooking, prepping, plating, and so on. These spills and messes are almost like a ticking time bomb just waiting for the first unsuspecting person to slip and fall on a puddle that wasn't immediately cleaned up. Make cleaning supplies available and accessible, and stress to employees the importance of prompt cleaning, even during rushes. One additional tip: don't use the same mop and bucket for public areas, so as not to transport oil to the front-of-house.
  • Anti-skid mats: Similar to making cleaning supplies accessible, it's also important to outfit your back-of-house with items that help keep the environment safe. Rubber mats located near fryers, stoves and sinks are an easy, cost-effective way to stave off the opportunity for slips and falls.
  • Open fryers: There is no reason to leave a fryer open when not in use. In addition to reducing the risk of contamination, and more importantly, covering fryers will help ensure employees don't accidentally get splashed or unexpectedly encounter hot oil when the fryers aren't operational.
  • Bi-lingual training: Make sure your employee training courses and materials are translated for employees not fluent in English. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in a list of the top 20 industries employing Hispanic workers, restaurants and other food-services rank number one for women and number two for men. Restaurant employees who may not speak English fluently face a significant disadvantage if safety materials and training are only made available to them in a language they do not fully understand. Many of today's online training programs are dual-lingual and good resources for staff education.
  • Maintain high standards of cleanliness: Restaurants are some of the hardest places to keep clean. The fast speed at which restaurants operate, the grease and food waste, and even animal and bug infestations all lend to an uphill battle in keeping restaurants tidy and sanitary. Stress the importance of using downtime for cleaning. Time spent cleaning can be time saved from being out of work due to an injury.
  • Automated systems: Having an automated, closed-loop system for filling and filtering oil removes the possibility of employees coming in contact with oil-related hazards. Restaurant Technologies previously worked with DavCo Restaurants to help to reduce the franchisee's grease-related slips and falls by 47 percent and a decrease strains/lifting injuries by 18 percent by switching to a closed-looped system.
  • Have a first aid kit: While it should be a given for every business, if an injury happens, have a first aid kit handy and recognize when an employee needs professional medical attention. Ensure you have the proper materials on-site and readily available to address injuries and encourage employees to contact emergency services immediately in the event of a severe incident.
  • Conduct regular hazard assessments of exposures: Only 48 percent of quick-serve and casual dining restaurants surveyed in a recent report from Marsh said they have conducted formal hazard assessments in the last two years. Observing risks related to ergonomics, material handling, cuts, burns, slip and fall exposure, and formally recording and addressing are musts to ensure your staff and guests are safe — and to have detailed records in the chance that you do have a claim on your hands.

While the above list can seem daunting at first glance, taking the time to implement these measures can help ensure your restaurant continues to operate optimally. Give your team the tools and training they need to do their jobs properly and safely, and they will be instrumental in the overall success of your business.

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