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Jul 2016

Food for thought: Making Restaurants a safer place to work


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You see them every time you go out to eat: busy-bodies dashing between tables, delicately balancing plates of steaming soups and sizzling steaks. Still, there are ot­­hers that are out of sight. Workers hidden away behind swinging doors; chopping vegetables with razor-edged knives and tossing burgers on blazing stoves. The reality is that this environment is rife with hazards. Burns, slips, trips, cuts, and sickness are some of the things restaurant workers face every day. So, why are restaurants such risky places to work? And how can restaurants improve their safety measures?

By the numbers

Restaurants are a hotbed for job opportunities in the United States. This is especially true for younger people who are seeking a part-time job or temporary job during school. According to the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration, restaurants employ just under 12 million people in the United States. It is crucial to note that 30% of restaurant workers are under the age of 20.

A study endorsed by the US Department of Labor found that nearly 70,000 workers missed a day of work in 2008 due to an injury sustained in the workplace. The cost of these injuries does not stop at treatment. Rather, the study found four times the amount spent to treat the injuries was spent on fallout from the injury. Every injury must be investigated, and sometimes results in employee turnover and paid overtime for other employees. All of these are the indirect costs of a single injury.

What makes restaurants hazardous?

Restaurants are a buzz of activity and commotion. There are many moving parts, and restaurant functions require dangerous tools such as stoves and knives. Additionally, waitresses and waiters are on their feet constantly, and busboys spend hours hunched over tables wiping them with circular motions. These can all result in repetitive motion injuries; musculoskeletal chronic conditions that can cause pain for extended periods of time.

It is important to note that restaurants employ a high number of young workers. Young workers are more susceptible to occupational injuries than their older peers. There are many reasons behind this. First, young employees are often times inexperienced, and therefore are more likely to make mistakes. To build on that, training is oftentimes insufficient and causes young workers to learn through ‘trial by error’. Finally, science has shown that teenagers have an underdeveloped frontal cortex. The frontal cortex is the portion of the brain that directs decision making and reasoning. This is a part of the brain that does not fully develop until later in life. This leaves teenagers more susceptible to poor decision making, risk taking, and impulsive behavior. Ultimately, any workplace that employs young workers can expect to see at least a small increase in occupational injuries amongst those workers.

How can employers improve restaurant safety?

Improving restaurant safety comes down to persistence and a pointed effort to minimize hazards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration put together a document with UC Berkley to help guide restaurant owners and young workers in safety improvement. This guide focuses on minimizing hazardous situations by implementing preventive measures. For example, ensuring workers are wearing proper personal protective equipment.

Training is a crucial component to improving workplace safety in any job environment. However, it is especially important in workplaces that have many young workers. Restaurant managers should be sure their young employees are adequately trained and initiated into all pertinent restaurant responsibilities. It is wise to assign young workers with a ‘tutor’ to help them until they are accustomed. Employers should also know which jobs their young workers are legally allowed to do. Keeping young workers within the law can save them from job-related injuries, as well as protect the restaurants integrity.

Managers can also focus training on the education of employees about chronic injuries (musculoskeletal injuries), foodborne illnesses, blood-borne pathogens, and avoiding slips trips and falls. State-specific injury and illness prevention programs can help managers identify hazards in their restaurant, as well as help reduce injury occurrences.

Ultimately, no hazards will be completely removed. However, their relevance to the workplace can be mitigated. Managers should be aware of the injuries that occur most often in their workplace. They should also be providing sufficient training for young employees, and aware of legal restraints on young workers.

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