Rain, ice, sleet, and snow. These winter weather elements can create hazardous conditions that could potentially be costly for restaurant owners and operators who are unprepared or without a well-trained staff.

Inclement weather can create hazardous conditions, such as slippery surfaces, that increase the potential for an employee or customer accident. Patrons tracking in melting snow, servers and delivery persons rushing around on slippery surfaces, or employees shoveling snow are just a few scenarios that could lead to injuries.

Here are some tips to help identify and mitigate weather-related safety risks restaurant workers may be susceptible to this season:

Conduct a walk-through to identify potential risks. Look at the walking paths from both the vantage points of your employees and the customer experience. Walk the path from the street or parking lot to the entrance and throughout the restaurant to look for potential safety risks that may result from winter weather conditions. For example, look for potentially slippery areas from moisture tracked in on shoes or leaks from ceilings or rain gutters that could lead to slips. Some things to consider include:

  • Are there walk-off mats at each entry point? Providing patrons and employees an absorbent mat to wipe their feet is critical to maintaining drier floors.
  • Do you have a section near the host stand or area set aside for the proper storage of coats and umbrellas? If not, set one up to prevent water from being dripped throughout the establishment.
  • Do you have a mop at the ready to tackle wet spots?
  • Are employees properly dressed for their environment? Slip-resistant footwear, while always a good idea in a restaurant, is especially important in winter. Make them a requirement for your employees.


Shoveling snow can be dangerous work. Overexertion can cause dangerous, even fatal, outcomes without taking care. What’s more, shoveling in cold temperatures makes it harder to work and breathe, which places further strain on the body.

Provide the correct equipment for the task. A smaller bladed shovel allows for lifting less weight, putting less stress on the body. Share the load. Rotate employees through this task so no one employee has all the work.

Get the entire team involved. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers have the primary responsibility for protecting the safety and health of their workers, but spotting potential workplace hazards should be everyone’s responsibility. Front-line employees are usually most familiar with their day-to-day tasks and workspaces, so they can provide valuable input on potential safety risks. Create a workplace culture where employees are encouraged to openly discuss safer ways to do their jobs. For example, ask delivery drivers if they are paying extra attention to icy surfaces and following safe winter driving practices. Ask hosts and servers if they are being vigilant about looking out for slippery flooring caused by tracked in snow or rain. Make it part of everyone’s job to mop up wet spots promptly and to put out wet floor signage to warn their colleagues and patrons.

Know the weather lingo. Closely monitor forecasts, and plan accordingly. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a Winter Storm Warning is issued when hazardous winter weather, in the form of heavy snow, blizzard conditions, heavy freezing rain or heavy sleet, is imminent or occurring. Winter Storm Warnings are usually issued 12 to 24 hours before the event is expected to begin. By contrast, Winter Weather Advisories are issued for accumulations of snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and sleet which will cause significant inconveniences. If caution is not exercised, these conditions could lead to life threatening situations.

Communicate early with your staff so that they can plan ahead and make any necessary adjustments to their routine; i.e., leaving home early so they’re not rushed; dressing warmly and comfortably in layers; notifying them of any early closures or other changes to restaurant hours; and reminding them of your business’s safety protocols.

Know your workers’ comp coverage and local regulations. Even when teams take a proactive approach to safety, occasionally accidents can happen. Currently, there are more than 2.6 million food prep and service workers in the U.S. and the rate of injury per 100 workers in the sector is 2.6, according to the Bureau of Labor & Statistics. Workers’ compensation insurance is a strategic investment that protects business owners, as well as a business’ most important asset: its employees, in the event of a work-related injury or occupational disease. Also referred to as workers’ comp insurance or workman’s comp, workers’ compensation insurance covers all reasonable and necessary medical treatment and lost wages for employees who get injured in the course and scope of their employment or experience an occupational disease. The benefits for employees and employers vary from state to state.

Taking action by creating a culture of safety, anticipating winter weather hazards in your workplace safety program, educating employees and making sure your business is properly covered with workers’ compensation insurance are smart moves that can help keep employees and customers safe while protecting restaurant owners from potential costly liabilities.

Dan Killins is Director, Risk Advisory Services for EMPLOYERS, America’s small business insurance specialist, which offers workers’ compensation insurance and services through Employers Insurance Company of Nevada, Employers Compensation Insurance Company, Employers Preferred Insurance Company, Employers Assurance Company, and Cerity Insurance Company (Not all insurers do business in all jurisdictions.) To learn more, please visit www.EMPLOYERS.com.

The information provided is intended to provide a general overview.  This information is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such.  EMPLOYERS makes no warranties for the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of the information provided, and will not be responsible for any actions taken based on the information contained herein. If you have legal questions or need legal advice, please consult an attorney.

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