Did you know that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. restaurant industry employers reported over 98,000 nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2019? Additionally, the average cost per year per restaurant for workers compensation claims is $45,600.
This underscores the extreme importance of having a solid safety plan and adhering to best practices and protocols. The benefits of outlining safety tips for your team are important because it can help save lives and mitigate liability for your business.
Below are some of the top hazards to look out for in a restaurant and bar as well as tips to help prevent disaster:
Most Common Hazards in a Restaurant or Bar
Like any fast-paced workplace with lots of hustle and bustle, accidents and injuries can happen. The best way you can protect yourself, your employees, and your customers is by being aware of the most significant hazards and putting safety procedures into place. Here are some of the most common hazards in a restaurant or bar:
- Slips, trips, and falls: ensuring egresses are clear, floor obstacles are clearly marked, and non-slip mats are properly placed are surefire ways to minimize slips, trips and falls. Additionally, make sure employees know to wear non-slip shoes.
- Cuts/lacerations: as one might anticipate, working in a kitchen increases risks of injury from cuts and lacerations. Whether you work with simple vegetable chopping or heavy duty meat slicers, it’s crucial to provide proper cutlery training as well as cut-resistant gloves.
- Fires: it may come as no surprise, but having a fully equipped kitchen means fire safety is of utmost importance. Cooking equipment alone causes over half of restaurant fires. Make sure your employees are properly trained and all appliances undergo routine maintenance and inspection.
- Hazardous materials: bleach, ammonia, and other chemicals and cleaners are another source of injury and illness in restaurants and bars. When handling these materials, employees should always carefully read the label.
5 Essential Safety Tips for Restaurant or Bar Owners
Let’s explore in greater detail how you can further prevent injury
1. Floor care
Slips, trips, and falls can occur throughout the premises, from the kitchen area to the parking lot and anywhere in between. The National Floor Safety Institute estimates that over 3 million food service employees and more than 1 million guests are injured each year as a result of slips/trips/falls in a restaurant or bar setting.
Proper floor care and routine housekeeping is a sure way to mitigate the risk of an employee or a customer from being injured.
- When cleaning and mopping floors, keep in mind that the less foot traffic there is, the better. Try to limit mopping during non-peak hours (except for cleaning spills) and always post a ‘wet floor’ sign close by warning workers and patrons to avoid that particular area.
- The kitchen floor is prone to have grease and/or oil on it, so it is important to use separate mops to avoid cross contaminating the kitchen floor with the floor in the public dining area.
- Make sure to place rubber floor mats at areas known to accumulate liquid, such as sinks and dishwashing stations, near beverage stations and entry walkways (especially during winter when snow is present).
- Strongly consider requiring slip-resistant shoes for employees
- Maintain your parking lot and any sidewalks
- Per OSHA 1910.28(b)(11)(ii), provide hand railings on stairways of four steps or more and use signs (“watch your step”) or other indicators (tape that is contrasting in color) for stairs.
- Food safety
As a restaurant owner, one of your top priorities should be serving food that keeps customers coming back; and it all starts with food safety. If you don’t already have a food safety and hygiene policy in place, consider implementing one that covers these areas:
- Thorough cleaning of equipment and work areas
- Personal hygiene of staff
- Training staff on how the food is properly prepared, cooked and stored
Food should be covered, labeled, dated and elevated off the floor. Your staff should be aware of the common first-in, first-out food rotation: newer food gets placed behind older food in storage so that spoiled food does not get served.
It is also important to be smart in how refrigerator shelf space is designated for certain foods. For instance, meats should be stored low on a shelf as this will prevent juices from dripping onto, and ultimately cross-contaminating, other foods. Implement a staff temperature log to track the temperatures of refrigerators and freezers. Refrigerator temperatures should be set around 40°F while freezers should be kept at 0°F or below.
- Working with knives and glass
Restaurant and bar employees are exposed to cuts and laceration injuries due to cutting, slicing, dicing and chopping. Bartenders are also at risk because they work with glassware and perform occasional knife work. For these reasons, it is necessary to provide a first aid kit and make sure staff is aware of where to find it if needed.
Keep in mind that a sharper knife is a safer knife. It may sound counterintuitive at first, but the fact of the matter is that cooks have more control with a sharp knife. Meanwhile, a dull knife requires more force exertion and can slip more easily.
In addition to proper training, employees should be outfitted with protective cutting gloves, which reduce the risks associated with knifework. Staff should avoid mixing knives with other utensils, especially when cleaning them.
Lastly, teach bartenders and kitchen staff that if a knife or glass is dropped, don’t attempt to catch it; let it fall. A dustpan should be kept at the ready for any broken glass, and ice should be thrown away if glass broke near any ice supply.
- Fires, Burns, and Scalds
Cooks and servers are the employees most at-risk of being burned, whether it is from cooking the food or preparing a cup of hot coffee. A best practice is to only remove coffee pots when the coffee is completely done being brewed. Train your cooks to always use hot pads or waiter’s cloth when touching hot pots or pans, and servers to do the same when transporting hot plates. Provide trays and carts for your staff to carry hot plates to tables and ensure servers give the customer a courteous warning if plates are arriving hot to the table.
Additionally, make sure your staff is trained on the basics of fire safety and prevention. Fires are one of the biggest threats restaurants face, and they can prove catastrophic to the business. However, being prepared and proactive is the best way to mitigate fire risk:
- Properly store and wash greasy rags to prevent spontaneous combustion
- Develop and regularly review a fire emergency action plan with your employees
- Keep a detailed log of the maintenance and cleaning schedule for your kitchen and cooking equipment
- Handling Hazardous Materials
All restaurant staff should be trained on how to use and store hazardous materials such as cleaning chemicals. Such products, when mishandled, can cause chemical burns, respiratory problems and infections. Here are a few things to keep in mind when handling hazardous materials in your restaurant:
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, masks, aprons and safety glasses.
- Always read the label for proper mixing measurements and usage.
- Never eat or drink while handling toxic chemicals.
- Store chemicals away from food in a dry, ventilated area. Store on lower shelves to avoid potential spillage onto other materials.
- Never mix bleach and ammonia. This creates a poisonous gas that causes severe respiratory damage and can be lethal.