Is My Business Unsafe?
EMPLOYERS Loss Control Program Manager Dan Killins said restaurants that are most successful at occupational safety and health incorporate it into their existing operating systems.
“Employees, front-of-house managers, back-of-house managers, bar managers – they don’t have time to think about flipping on another switch over the course of the day and then flipping it off again,” Killins said. “They just want to run their routine. And if you incorporate the safety systems into their routines, their focus is going to be better on the things that are important with regards to the occupational safety and health.”
Safety Begins With Training
Within their operational systems, restaurant owners and managers ask themselves many times during a shift: Are we cooking things to the right temperature? Are we storing things correctly? Are we sourcing our ingredients from the right places? Incorporating occupational safety-related questions into that process can help them avoid the most common restaurant injuries, which include:
- Cuts from knife use, kitchen equipment and damaged tableware
- Burns from hot liquids, chemicals, plates, stoves, ovens or fryers
- Slips and falls due to wet or otherwise slippery floors
- Strains from lifting and carrying heavy objects
These injuries can leave a restaurant short-staffed, costing the owner time and money for medical exams and treatments. This adds unwanted, unexpected and unnecessary costs to the bottom line of an already tough-to-run small business. Avoiding these preventable injuries begins with training.
As a restaurant owner or manager, when you train employees to do their specific jobs, also train them to do their jobs safely. For example, when training an employee to flip a burger correctly, it’s not just how to flip it well and quickly. It’s also teaching them to flip it away from their bodies so the grease doesn’t splash on them. Or when showing a line cook how to drain a basket of fries, teach them to use two hands to make sure they don’t strain their shoulders or arms. A restaurant safety element should be part of training for all tasks, including stocking the storerooms, retrieving or putting away ingredients, moving kegs or stocking a bar.
“Stop thinking about safety as an add-on and incorporate safety training into operational training,” Killins suggested. “Incorporate how to do the job safely into the existing training of doing the job, so it’s not an afterthought.”
The pre-shift meeting is another chance to incorporate occupational safety training into a daily routine. Employees pay attention when managers present the daily specials, talk about the ingredients and allow them to taste. Front-of-house staff, who may not be privy to everything going on in the back-of-house, pay particular attention because it connects them to what’s going on in the restaurant. That’s a perfect opportunity to start using the language of restaurant safety, Killins said.
“Remind them to use two hands to carry a tray, even though it might look fancier with one hand,” Killins said. “Or if it’s raining outside, remind them we want to keep a close eye on the floor inside the front door and make sure that if there’s any accumulation of water, we take care of that right away or throw down a mat. Whatever it might be, those pre-shift meetings are an opportunity to very quickly, in just a couple of sentences and in less than a minute, convey a safety message.”
Routine vs. Non-routine Tasks
Restaurants, like any business, have routine and non-routine tasks. Routine tasks tend to cause fewer injuries because employees are used to doing them often. Non-routine tasks are those that occur on only a monthly, quarterly, annual, or occasional basis. Because employees have less experience with non-routine tasks, they are more likely to result in an injury or accident.
“Having a bus boy sweeping the road in front of the restaurant, you’re looking at potential vehicle exposure,” Killins said. “When you look at an employee on the roof clearing debris from drains, you’re looking at possible fall from heights. And we’ve noticed an increasing trend [of non-routine incidents] over the last couple of years.”
As a restaurant owner or manager, you need to carefully evaluate the non-routine tasks and weigh the benefits of having an employee do the job versus hiring a specialist contractor, he added.
“I would ask them to pause and think: ‘Is this a non-routine task that this bus boy or this dishwasher is used to doing?’” Killins said. “Not, ‘Should they know how to do it?’ But, ‘Have they been trained to do it properly?’ And then consider the potential outcomes that may not be fantastic – think about those tasks a little more carefully.”
Consider the non-routine task of cleaning the hood over a fryer or grill. Typically, restaurants will contract out that task because it can be high-risk. Hoods are elevated and messy, and the task involves chemical use and cleaning overhead. However, it’s tempting for restaurant owners or managers to take a shortcut to save a buck and just have a staffer do the job.
“Standing on a grill and trying to clean a hood or balancing between a ladder, a grill, and a fryer is a bad idea,” Killins said. “I have read incidents of people actually stepping in fryer oil while trying to clean the hood. While it might be easy to say, ‘Hey, after you’re done with the dishes guys, can you go and spend a couple of hours cleaning that?’ But restaurateurs really must evaluate if an employees has the tools, experience and understanding of the chemicals necessary to do a job like that, then balance that with that many companies out there who do that for a living and that’s their expertise.”
Make Safety Your Mantra
When employees hear the message of restaurant safety from their leaders on a frequent basis, it’s similar to the effect of a drip irrigation system for plants. Drenching plants at the beginning of a week, letting them dry out and then drenching them again a week later isn’t healthy for a plant. A constant slow drip from an irrigation system keeps the soil perfectly hydrated.
“If they hear that continuing message of safety on a daily basis, they soon to begin to understand that it’s a priority for their bosses and a priority for their business,” Killins said. “And you’ll start to develop a culture of interdependence, where people look out for each other and everybody speaks the same language. Incorporating the language of safety in the way you communicate with workers on a daily basis is a huge key toward developing a positive safety culture, particularly in a restaurant.”
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