Employee turnover in restaurants and other hospitality businesses has topped 70 percent for the past two years, mainly due to the disproportionate number of teenagers, students, and seasonal employees who work in these jobs. Managing employee churn is one of the persistent challenges restaurant owners face—and it may be getting tougher given the shallow candidate pool.

A recent survey of small business employees conducted by EMPLOYERS found that small business owners may be underselling an important factor that could give them a recruiting edge: their workplace safety record. Along with compensation and commute length, workplace safety is one of the top criteria small business employees consider when they evaluate a new job.

Most small businesses understand the importance of putting workplace safety first to prevent workers from getting hurt or sick on the job, but there is room for improvement. Nearly one in five respondents (17 percent) said they never received workplace safety training and 40 percent indicated their employer does not post the required Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) signage prominently, or they are not sure if it is displayed.

Here are four ways quick-service restaurant owners can give themselves a recruiting advantage by maintaining a safe workplace for employees.

Establish a Culture of Safety

Establishing a culture of safety, where every employee prioritizes and is held accountable for upholding a safe workplace, is essential to maintaining a safe work environment. A culture of safety can mitigate risks, reduce the likelihood of employee injuries or illnesses on the job, and even result in a lower workers’ compensation insurance premium. To help promote a culture of safety, restaurant owners, managers and shift supervisors should clearly communicate safety guidelines and goals to the entire staff throughout the year. It is also important for management to walk-the-talk and model the safety behavior they expect from their staff every day.

Recognize and assess potential hazards

Take time to identify potential hazards and develop policies and procedures to make sure employees can do their jobs safely. Proactive steps include conducting regular walk-throughs of the restaurant – from the entrance to the dining area, and the kitchen to storage and bathrooms

to identify potential threats. Be on the lookout for severed or frayed electrical wires; malfunctioning fryers, slicers or other equipment; uneven flooring; or areas that can become dangerously slick, such as entryways and kitchen tiles around sinks and dishwashers. 

Educate and Remind Regularly

Whether an employee has worked in a restaurant previously or is new to the workforce, it is essential to review safety procedures as part of new employee onboarding and provide refresher courses for all staff to keep policies top-of-mind. Consider implementing short weekly safety sessions to review important procedures for specific jobs. For instance, one session for kitchen workers could focus on best practices for cleaning and using fryers, emphasizing the importance of wearing the correct uniform, such as long-sleeved cotton shirts, long pants and an apron to help shield from hot oil splashes.

It is also good practice to include safety policies in employee handbooks and display safety posters throughout the workplace to remind employees about the business’ safety priorities and procedures. OSHA requires all workplaces to post signage that informs workers of their rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Review OSHA’s guidelines on the types of signs that quick service restaurants are required to post and where they should be located to comply with applicable rules and regulations.

Enforce, Listen and Evaluate

Creating asafe workplace should never be considered “done.” It is important to conduct regular safety audits and review safety procedures, adjusting them as needed. Managers solicit input from employees who may encounter potential hazards and have constructive ideas for addressing them.

Unfortunately, the EMPLOYERS survey found that only half (52 percent) of small business employees would feel comfortable addressing workplace safety concerns with management. Implement an open-door policy, or consider an anonymous suggestion box, to encourage employees to share their workplace safety concerns. 

While quick service restaurant owners and managers juggle many priorities, it is important to prioritize serving up workplace safety. Fostering a safe work environment will not only keep employees safe, but can also play a role in attracting and retaining staff.

David Quezada is Vice President of Loss Control 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, and Employers Assurance Company. Not all insurers do business in all jurisdictions. EMPLOYERSÒ and America’s small business insurance specialistÒ are registered trademarks of Employers Insurance Company of Nevada.
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