Easy ways you can keep your team safe and save money.

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The foodservice industry is not only a demanding field, but its workers are also at a high risk for injury due to the numerous ways workers are exposed to workplace hazards.

The most common causes of injury—slips, trips, and falls—make up 22 percent of all incidents in quick service, according to a the Restaurant 2015 Loss Benchmark Report by Marsh Risk Consulting. Lifting, strains, and sprains; cuts and scrapes; struck by object incidents; and burns or exposure each measure between 11 and 14 percent of all quick-service injuries.

In addition to creating a more stressful workplace, these workplace injuries also hurt the bottom line. An average restaurant has three to four injuries per year that cost Workers’ Compensation, according to NCCI Restaurant Data, York Risk Services, and Willis Towers Watson. Most of these injuries will be minor, costing $1,036 per claim; however, up to once per year, those costs can average $42,586 each.

Managers and operators who proactively address safety issues can keep operating costs down while keeping their teams safe.

Mike Keeler, a restaurant safety strategist with more than 30 years of experience in industry safety and security leadership, shares tips for how restaurants can reduce safety incidents and improve the bottom line.

1. Set the Standard

The first step in keeping employees safe is setting standards and making it clear that taking time for safety is always a priority, even when the restaurant is busy.

“It starts with restaurant managers,” Keeler says. “They have to set the culture that safety is important. They don’t want employees to take the easy way out to do a task that requires a cut resistant glove, and they just chose not to wear the cut glove because they don’t want to take the time. It’s creating the culture that no job is so important that it can’t be done a job safely, and no task that needs to be done so fast that you can’t do it in a safe manner.”

Make sure to give employees clear messages about why safety is important and what steps they are expected to take in the course of their regular job duties.

2. Exhibit the Right Behaviors

Setting the standard also means that managers have to set the right example by ensuring they always use the appropriate gear and procedures. Employees who hear safety messages but don’t see managers following through with the same behaviors are receiving mixed messages that undermine the importance of the safety culture.

“Managers have to wear the cut gloves and burn protection equipment,” Keeler says. “They have to ensure they are being cautious as well to demonstrate that behavior that they want their employees to emulate.”

3. Train and Educate

Just because employees are told to be safe on the job does not mean they understand how to be safe and why it’s so important. This means that training is a vital component of improving a restaurant’s safety culture.

“Education around the types of injuries that typically happen in the restaurant helps employees learn a little bit about what the hazards are in a restaurant,” Keeler says.

But that training can’t be a one-time lesson on the employees’ first day on the job. People forget what they learned in training over time, and when they get busy, they don’t think about those lessons. Continuous training is the most effective way to keep teams safe, Keeler says.

“You have to have those ongoing reminders, whether it be a monthly safety lesson plan that’s been implemented, whether it’s a newsletter that comes out periodically that talks about the hazards of working in a restaurant, or even something as routine as on-going coaching by restaurant leadership team,” he says.

Breaking these messages down into weekly topics is one effective way to make sure employees learn about the biggest safety risks. One week management can focus on cuts, while the next they focus on burns, for example.

4. Pay Attention to the Newest Employees

Even though new employees usually receive safety lessons early in training, new staff members are usually the first to forget safety when they get overwhelmed. It’s important to pay attention to them and coach their behaviors on the spot.

“A lot of times, it’s the new employees that get overwhelmed with the demands of the job and cut corners that lead to injuries,” Keeler says. “Make sure that training new employees takes place frequently and continually for the first 90 days.”

5. Keep up with Maintenance

Another key factor in making a restaurant a safer place to work is taking care of maintenance issues when they occur. Sometimes this becomes a challenge when the restaurant is busy or managers are worried about the budget, but it is always better to spend the payroll or money it takes to fix an issue than to risk an employee or guest getting hurt.

“You might have had a door that needs repaired or a leak in the three-compartment sink that is causing water to build up on the floor every day, but because restaurants have limited dollars in the facility, the problem is ignored,” Keeler says. “Equipment that can cause accidents has to be handled immediately.”

In order for a restaurant to be successful, safety an ongoing priority. In addition to making the store a better place to work, paying attention to safety can prevent incidents that will hurt the bottom line.

By Peggy Carouthers

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