Best practices for protecting employees from falls, burns, cuts and other harms
The kitchen can be a dangerous place, and not only because the close quarters make it difficult to prevent the transmission of the novel coronavirus. The fast-paced work environment has hazards related to slippery floors, sharp objects and hot appliances. Safety experts say operators can prevent slips and falls, cuts and burns by training their employees and by monitoring the many details that can cause harm.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in full-service restaurants incurred 93,800 nonfatal injuries and illnesses in 2019, up from 91,800 in 2018. About one-third of these occupational injury cases required at least one day away from work. The incidence rate of cases involving days away from work in full-service restaurants increased to 88.3 cases per 10,000 full-time workers, compared to 73.1 in 2018.
The BLS also noted that the injuries with the highest incidence rates were cuts and lacerations, which accounted for 8,110 cases. Also common were sprains, strains and tears, soreness and pain, and heat (thermal) burns.
Train and remind
Workers’ compensation insurance carriers are good sources of information on how to keep the workplace safe, and often list safety tips on their websites. Among the best practices is to train workers on safety protocols, and that education should start when the worker is hired. “Formal onboarding is important,” says Matthew Zender, senior vice president, workers’ compensation product management for AmTrust Financial Services, a multinational insurance holding company headquartered in New York. “It sets the expectations of employees coming in for how to work safely. It also gives them the impression they are valued. They want to feel the employer cares about their wellbeing.”
There are many elements to training, such as learning how to use different knives, reducing clutter around stairways, and requiring workers to wear closed-toe shoes. Non-slip mats are good for preventing slips and falls, and workers must clean spills, make sure the floor is not slippery with grease, and clean equipment and change filters often.
There is much to remember, so managers should review often. “Do something every day,” Zender says. “It could be reminding your team in a five-second meeting, hanging some type of notice to remind people, or doing a sweep of the operation every morning before employees come in.”
As restaurants adapted their business models to boost food sales during the COVID-19 crisis, some installed new equipment such as fryers. Some also added or enhanced their delivery and takeout options, but for various reasons were not able to increase the number of workers handling these orders. While having fewer people in the kitchen might reduce the chances of bumping into each other, the negative effect is the pace speeds up, and workers might make safety mistakes trying to keep up with orders. Also, Zender says, the equipment will have to be serviced more often if there is a higher volume of orders. Even if that service is outsourced, kitchen staff should do routine cleaning of the equipment.
Cuts and slips
The pandemic had an effect on the incidence of certain injuries. According to Intrepid Direct Insurance, a provider of property and casualty coverage for pizza delivery franchisees, the team is seeing certain types of workers’ compensation claims, given the new dynamics of the pandemic environment. Intrepid Direct’s claims director, Jacci Zach, says that slips, trips and falls in addition to lacerations (mostly to a hand) were the most prevalent injury types pre-COVID, and still are today. However, slips, trips and falls from April 2020 to January 2021 were four percent more frequent than cuts as compared to pre-COVID times.
Intrepid Direct offers several prevention tips. For cuts, operators should implement knife safety education, invest in chain mail gloves for cutting, and teach workers not to submerge knives in dishwater where they cannot be seen. Knives are not the only sharp objects, so do not compress trash bags because metal can lids may be present. Also avoid using box cutters and sweep up broken glass instead of picking it up. For slips and falls, require employees to wear non-slip shoes, use sturdy stools and ladders when stocking supplies, always clean up spills immediately and mark wet areas.
According to the Quincy, Massachusetts-based National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), from 2014 to 2018 there were an average of 9,100 structure fires each year in eating and drinking establishments. Of those, 7,300 were in restaurants or cafeterias, 800 in bars and nightclubs, and 900 in other unclassified eating and drinking establishments. These fires resulted in an average of 125 civilian injuries and one death each year, and $162 million in direct property loss each year.
Even if there are fewer workers in the restaurant, pizzeria owners still must work on fire prevention. “The hazards are the same with 20 people in the kitchen or two people,” says Gregory Harrington, P.E., principal engineer with the NFPA. Make sure there aren’t any empty fire extinguisher brackets with no extinguisher, and check extinguishers to make sure the pressure gauge is not showing red, or the low side. Also, Harrington says, if the kitchen uses a wood burning or other solid fuel oven, clean the creosote in the vent.
One COVID-19 related potential fire source is hand sanitizer. “In general, alcohol-based hand-rub solution, which is the technical term, is a flammable liquid and it needs to be treated accordingly,” Harrington says. Hand sanitizer started to appear in healthcare settings and other workplaces more than a decade ago, so the NFPA fire codes include specifics about storage and placement. Don’t store more than five gallons of alcohol-based solutions, and don’t put a hand sanitizer dispenser over carpet, because it can drip and affect the fire performance of the carpet. It’s better to put the bottle over a tile or ceramic floor, and even better, in an area with an automatic sprinkler. In the kitchen, keep the hand sanitizer away from cooking equipment and light switches, and instruct workers to rub the sanitizer on their hands until it evaporates.
“The key takeaway would be for restaurant operators to maintain as high a degree of fire prevention vigilance as they can,” Harrington says.
Nora Caley is a freelance writer who covers small business, finance and lifestyle topics.