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An Ounce of Prevention


More than a worker is lost every time a staff member suffers an accident. Time is spent each time you accompany an employee to the emergency room. Money is doled out for higher insurance premiums. Serious accidents may require that you spend time and money looking for and training replacements. But even minor injuries—ones for which an employee never leaves the workplace—turn industrious workers into those who hesitate and fumble as they baby a bandaged burn or “butterflied” finger. There is no doubt that efficiency diminishes each time a mishap occurs.

            A small number of accidents are expected within any busy restaurant, but an above-average number of slip-and-fall accidents, cuts, burns, and lifting injuries are costly — and preventable. Reducing an uncommon number of accidents often boils down to a little effort or a minimal investment. Following is a list of common restaurant accidents and the best ways to prevent them.

Slip-and-fall accidents are the number-one cause of workers’ comp claims. They often result when—in the hustle of service—spills go unnoticed and grease builds up on floors. Insist that your staff stop to clean up spills as they happen. Make floor cleaning a priority, perhaps by investing in a high-pressure washing system. They are relatively inexpensive, save time and money, and will ensure that your floors stay grease free.

Trip-and-fall accidents are almost as common as slip-and-fall ones, especially when space is limited and inventory blocks narrow walkways. Design accessible and spacious storage, and be sure your staff avoids stacking supplies in the aisles.

Cuts are a perennial cause of lost time and expensive rehab. If your staff is suffering from an abnormal number of slips of the knife, perhaps it is time to examine the possible causes. First, your staff may have poor knife-handling skills. Second, the knives and knife-related equipment your staff uses may be in poor condition. (Are the knives dull? Are cutting boards warped and rutted?) Finally, the knives may be left or stored in hazardous locations. (Are knives kept loose in drawers, or are they left on worktables or in the sink?) Inspect the tools for wear regularly, and teach staff to use, maintain, and stow knives properly. A one-hour tutorial could save hours of lost time due to cuts.

Burns are very common accidents. Employee inattention results in some burns, but overfilled cookware that slops when moved or an inadequate supply of fresh, dry towels and oven pads have caused many burns in busy restaurants. If your volume has grown over the years, odds are you’re now using undersized pots and pans. Size your cookware to the quantities you’re cooking now. Instead of using your stovetop for large pots of stock, soup, or pasta, think of using a stockpot range. Your staff will appreciate not having to lift 20 gallons from a 36-inch height, and they will likely burn themselves less frequently.

Lifting and carrying is a large and potentially dangerous part of a kitchen worker’s job. There are many things managers can do to prevent injuries caused by lifting. First, arrange a tutorial regarding how to lift properly. Second, encourage employees to ask for help when faced with a situation where they must move something that is too heavy for them. Third, order supplies in more portable quantities. For example, order flour in 25-pound bags instead of 50. If much heavy lifting is required, acquire equipment designed to make moving easier and keep it in an accessible location.

Every manager is responsible for keeping employees safe and reducing the potential for accidents. Turning a bustling, seemingly chaotic kitchen into a safe place may seem impossible, but with planning, commitment, cooperation, and education, you may never need that pound of cure.


Quick Tips

  • Conduct safety training frequently, and offer quick reinforcing comments as potentially dangerous tasks arise.
  • Provide commercial-grade equipment for moving and opening. High-quality dollies, can openers, box cutters, and lid lifters are cheap insurance.
  • Implement incentives for accident-free periods and disciplinary measures for safety violations.
  • Schedule an adequate number of people for each shift so that staff is not overtaxed and prone to dangerous mistakes.
  • Keep well-stocked first-aid kits in highly visible and strategic locations, and conduct basic first-aid training sessions regularly
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