A Menu of Common Safety Risks in Hotel Food and Beverage Operations
By Raul Chacon Western Regional Loss Control Manager, EMPLOYERS Insurance, Inc. | August 25, 2019
In many hotels, the food and beverage space has experienced robust annual growth over the last several years, largely due to new services, such as bars, breakfast buffets and upscale restaurants. Due to the influx of weddings, social events and business conferences, banquet and catering services have grown to account for nearly 40 cents out of every dollar spent at hotels.
As new operations are introduced to the workplace, it is essential hotel owners and managers train employees on workplace safety best practices. This is especially important given how prevalent workplace injuries are in the food and beverage industry. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, three in every 100 workers in this industry are injured while on the job.
When one worker gets injured, fellow employees, hotel owners and guests can suffer. For instance, business costs can rise due to workers' compensation insurance claims and out-of-pocket medical expenses. Other hidden costs can arise from retraining and/or hiring new staff, coordinating shift changes and scheduling extra supervisor time. Often, these higher costs either reduce profitability or get passed on to customers. Additionally, employee morale may be affected if other staff members need to work overtime to pick up an injured employee's shifts. On top of those factors, overworked, short-staffed or low-morale employees may be less attentive to guests' needs, which may also have a negative impact on current or future business.
Food and Beverage Safety Risks
Being aware of common workplace injuries and working to mitigate those risks can reduce the likelihood of employee injuries and improve a hotel's bottom line. Here are some of the top safety concerns in the food and beverage industry, as well as best practices for mitigating each risk.
Slips, trips and falls
Slips, trips and falls are common injuries in the food and beverage industry. They often occur on wet or greasy floors but are also prevalent near changes of elevation and floor transition areas, such as where the carpeted dining room floor meets the tiled kitchen floor. Tripping over scattered boxes or colliding with fellow employees is also common. For instance, the kitchen may be extra busy during special events and peak occupancy at the hotel, which might increase the risk of employees colliding into each other when moving around corners too quickly. These types of accidents can be especially dangerous when employees are carrying serving trays of hot food and beverages or breakable china and glasses.
Hotel owners and managers should require all employees to wear comfortable, non-slip footwear when in the kitchen, dining room, around hotel pool bars or other areas where food and beverages are prepared or served. Placing non-slip mats in the kitchen and behind bars can reduce the risk of an employee slipping and getting injured. Installing mirrors can give employees greater ability to see around corners or other blind spots to avoid collisions. Mopping up spills as soon as possible and placing wet floor signs to alert others can help reduce slips and falls, as well.
Regular cleaning regimens can also help employees remain safe. Pay particular attention to flooring that is often exposed to excess moisture or grease, such as the areas around sinks, ice machines, dishwashers or stovetops, since they can be slipping hazards. Storage rooms should be kept well organized and free of clutter so employees don't accidentally trip over brooms, mops or boxes of inventory.
Cuts and lacerations
There are many ways kitchen staff and other foodservice employees in a hotel environment can get hurt from a cut or laceration. In the kitchen, knives are a common source of injury in food preparation, such as slicing vegetables or cutting meat. Bar staff who may use knives to prep drink ingredients or garnishes are also at risk. If not used and cleaned properly, sharp knives and equipment, like mandolins or slicers, can cause deep cuts or even the loss of fingers.
Hotel owners and managers should require employees to wear cut-resistant gloves when working with knives and other sharp tools. When educating employees about how to use kitchen knives properly, managers should emphasize the importance of cutting away from the body. Additionally, the risk of injury may be reduced if knife blades are kept sharp so that they can cut more accurately and require less force.
Broken glass is another common cause of injury. For instance, a glass cup may break if a barback uses the glass to scoop ice for a guest's drink. Employees should be encouraged to use plastic or metal ice scoops instead.
Bussers can also get cut if they aren't careful while cleaning up the occasional shattered glass or dish. Employees performing this task should be trained not to use their bare hands to pick up broken glass.
Each year, there are about 12,000 cases of burn incidents in the food service industry. In a bustling kitchen with hot equipment, everything from the splattering oil in fryers to hot plates being carried to the buffet line can potentially cause an injury.
Hotel owners and managers should make sure each member of the kitchen staff wears appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as heat-resistant gloves, mitts and aprons when handling hot items. As more hotels offer craft tea blending, espresso beverages and nitro coffee or tea on tap, restaurant owners and managers should train all employees how to use hot beverage machines and other kitchen equipment correctly.
Musculoskeletal strains are another common injury in the food and beverage industry. For instance, chefs may be prone to back and neck injuries due to standing in front of the stovetop or grill all day and lifting heavy cast iron skillets. Servers may experience similar pain from carrying trays piled with food from the kitchen to the dining room. Barbacks or bussers may also be at risk from making repeat trips with cases of glasses or plates.
Hotel owners and managers should encourage all employees to take regular breaks. Be sure to order supplies in small containers that staff can easily handle, as well as the proper equipment to mitigate musculoskeletal strains, such as serving trays that aren't too heavy and two-wheeled carts that limit the manual lifting of delivery containers.
Training staff on proper lifting techniques is also a best practice. The Mayo Clinic suggests a six-part process to lift heavier objects properly: Begin in a safe position, maintain the curve of the lower back, use legs, squat, let legs power the lift instead of the back and avoid twisting. Before moving heavy objects, it's a good practice to know exactly where the object will be placed and that the path to get to that place is clear of any obstacles, such as buffet stations or dining tables. And if an object is too heavy, workers should seek assistance.
There are a number of violent acts, ranging from robberies to bar fights, that could occur in a hotel restaurant or bar given the late operating hours as well as the presence of alcohol.
Employees should receive regular training on how to prevent and respond to these kinds of situations to minimize the risks of someone getting hurt. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides best practices for protecting employees who work in late-night retail establishments, which can provide a good foundation for a violence prevention training program. Examples of steps to take include limiting access to cash and staffing the bar appropriately with two or more workers, as well as making sure parking lots and all exterior areas of the property, including the area around garbage dumpsters, are well lit.
Regularly Review Safety Best Practices
Workplace safety training is a continuous process. It is important hotel owners and managers train restaurant workers during their new-hire orientation and an ongoing basis, especially when new processes, procedures and equipment are introduced into the workplace.
One strategy for keeping safety policies top of mind is to implement short, weekly sessions to review important procedures for specific tasks. For instance, review best practices for sharpening knives with chefs and line cooks and discuss tips for lifting and setting down heavy trays with servers.
During these mini-trainings, be sure to inform managers and general staff how to spot and deal with safety hazards quickly and effectively. For instance, if a guest spills his drink at the bar, make sure bartenders understand the importance of attending to the spill quickly and placing signs warning guests and coworkers that the floor is wet.
Engaging employees in the injury prevention process is an effective way to reduce work related injuries and also strengthen the workplace safety culture. These regular trainings can be a great way to be sure that all staff are trained to use equipment correctly.
As hotel owners and managers bring on additional staff to operate the growing food and beverage sector, it is important these staff members are regularly trained in identifying and mitigating workplace risks. Investing in employee safety will not only lead to a safer workplace, but it can improve a hotel's bottom line.
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