There were more than three million reported workplace injuries in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And a staggering 75 percent of those injuries occurred in service industries such as restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
Workplace injuries can be costly and have many negative repercussions, including lower productivity, higher workers’ compensation premiums and potential litigation. A business could also be fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for unsafe working conditions – and those penalties just got more severe.
In August 2016, OSHA stiffened compliance requirements and raised its fines for the first time in 26 years. Businesses that commit willful and/or repeated violations face a maximum $124,709 penalty, up from $70,000. Lesser offenses and one-time infractions now carry a maximum fine of $12,471, increased from $7,000, for each day the business remains out of compliance. OSHA plans to adjust these fines yearly to account for inflation.
OSHA inspections typically happen without advance notice and typically follow an employee complaint, a referral from a government agency, or a prior inspection.
Here are four common industry risks restaurant owners can proactively address to make their workplaces safer.
Hazardous materials. Hazard communication (HazCom) requirements introduced by OSHA in 2012 should not be a surprise. But in June 2016 new materials were added to the list, including several common kitchen chemicals that many restaurateurs may not think of, such as degreasers, oven cleaners and ammonia. The updated rules require restaurants to label the chemicals clearly and review specific materials-handling safety procedures with all workers. To prevent injuries from inhalation or skin exposure, make sure all employees handling these materials wear proper protective gear, including face masks and protective gloves.
Slips, trips and falls. Slips, trips and falls are the number one cause of workplace injuries, according to OSHA. In a busy commercial kitchen, grease may build up near cooking stations and water may pool in high-traffic spots near dishwashers, sinks and walk-in coolers. Keep a mop and bucket in an easily accessible area, and make sure spills and standing water are cleaned up immediately. Place antiskid mats next to the sink, dishwasher and cooler, and in the kitchen’s entrance to deal with busy foot traffic from the dining area to back of house spaces.
Cuts and lacerations. Using knives, meat slicers and other sharp tools can increase the risk of cuts and lacerations. Make sure all employees understand how to properly handle and clean slicing equipment, and use knives safely. Keep a first aid kit handy, and regularly replenish bandage supplies as needed.
Burns. Regular interactions with hot ovens, boiling water and deep fryers increase the likelihood that kitchen workers can get severely burned. Make sure everyone wears gloves, aprons and hats around hot equipment and tools. If a burn occurs, rinse the affected area under cool running water, bandage loosely and seek appropriate medical attention. Some workers’ compensation carriers offer hotlines where businesses can report or seek medical guidance for new injuries or illnesses. If your carrier offers such a resource, make sure managers know the number to call.
Any one of these hazards can result in a serious or even fatal employee injury or illness and trigger an OSHA inspection. Any workplace injury — even the most minor — should be recorded and documented in detail, including the date of the incident, the name of the injured worker, the accident details and witness accounts. In case of a workers’ compensation claim or OSHA inspection, proper record-keeping helps you cover your bases and stay in compliance.
For more information on restaurant safety, signage and resources, business owners can contact their local departments of labor, OSHA or their insurance agent or carrier.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Now and in the long term, it can help you protect your business, keep employees safe and save money.
David Quezada is vice president, loss control services, for EMPLOYERS.