GRA: Serve Your Employees a Safe and Healthy Workplace

Dion Y. Kohler

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Restaurants and other eating and drinking establishments are not commonly thought of by employers as a hazardous place of employment and compared to manufacturing, and other industrial work environments, they are not. But, 11.6 million people in the U.S. work in such businesses and nearly 30 percent are under 20 years-old and for many, it is their first work experience. This makes it particularly important for employers in the food service industry to place adequate emphasis on workplace safety through hazard analysis, familiarity with applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, proper employee training and mandatory record keeping.

In addition to the human and societal costs associated with workplace injuries, an employer who is found to have violated an OSHA standard, whether or not an injury occurs, can be subjected to fines as high as $70,000 per violation. In addition, workplace injuries and illnesses result in increased workers’ compensation claims and premium costs.

An effective workplace safety program begins with an analysis of the hazards to which employees may be exposed when performing their job duties. Once these hazards are identified, the appropriate method of eliminating the hazard should be selected and implemented.

The following are common hazards to which restaurant workers are exposed:

  • Strains and Sprains – Employees may be called upon to lift heavy boxes of product, stacks of dishes, trays, tables, chairs and similar items. An employer should provide training on proper lifting and carrying techniques to avoid injury. If employees who do loading or stocking could have their feet crushed, proper foot protection must be provided.
  • Slips, Trips and Falls – Spills should be promptly cleaned up and employees should wear non-slip shoes. Aisles and other paths of travel should be free of debris and tripping hazards.
  • Burns and Scalds – Burns can occur while cooking food and serving hot food or beverages. Proper training on the use of cooking equipment and personal protective equipment such as protective cloth or mitts, aprons and long sleeves can reduce these hazards.
  • Knives and Cuts – Training employees on safe cutting and storage procedures and the use of heavy duty gloves when washing knives are recognized as effective precautions.
  • Workplace Violence – Employers are required to provide for exit route doors at all time. Preparing a violence prevention program including training employees in dealing with potential threatening situations including robberies is recommended.
  • Hazardous Chemicals – Some cleaners are considered hazardous chemicals covered by OSHA’s Hazcom standard. This requires employers to provide information and training to employees regarding the hazards of such chemicals and proper protective measures, such as the use of gloves and goggles. including car exhaust
  • Electrical Hazards – Regularly inspect and remove damaged electrical equipment, cords and outlets. Ensure employees do not use electrical cords in damp or wet areas unless approved for such use. Properly label fuse box switches.
  • Noise, Heat and Cold Exposure – Drive thru employees may be exposed to excessive noise in headsets, car exhaust and heat or cold. Basic common sense protective measures can reduce this exposure and minimize the risk of injury.

OSHA standards which apply to an employer’s workplace should also be reviewed to ensure compliance. Many employers prepare a checklist of applicable standards and conduct periodic self- inspections. Be aware though that OSHA can obtain copies of these inspection results and will investigate whether adequate corrective measures were taken.

Annual safety training for all employees and initial training for new hires is required and an important accident prevention tool. When new hazards are introduced into the workplace, additional training is usually required.

Should OSHA conduct an inspection (no advance notice will given), proper legal advice should be obtained to protect the employer’s rights and minimize exposure to liability.