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If you're a leader in the restaurant or foodservice industry, you probably have a general understanding of what OSHA is and how it affects your business. But understanding the basics won't keep you safe from serious fines and penalties that could impact your bottom line or put your out of business—and that isn't an overreaction. In 2020, the cost per serious OSHA violation was $13,653 and willful or repeated violations have a penalty of $136,532 per instance.

Common Types of OSHA Fines & Penalties

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Safety hazards like grease dripping on the floor, low lighting, or clutter throughout the kitchen are all common causes of foodservice workplace accidents. Although you may not be able to eliminate these hazards entirely, you can reduce the risk your employees face by putting safety standards in place and ensuring that OSHA regulations are followed closely. Not only will you protect your employees this way, but the safer your employees are, the less you have to worry about OSHA penalizing you, your reputation being tarnished from public citations, and employees being out of work.

Common workplace injuries for restaurant and foodservice employees:

  1. Severe burns from oil or hot surfaces
  2. Cuts from equipment or knives
  3. Muscle strains from repetitive motions
  4. Slip and fall injuries

How Much Can an OSHA Fine Cost a Restaurant or Foodservice Provider?

It's important to realize that any failure to maintain a safe environment for your workers falls on you or your management team. Your business has a responsibility to provide a safe environment for your employees and if you fail to do so, resulting in an accident, injury, or illness, you can be cited and fined by OSHA.

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the topic of OSHA and how they fine employers or business owners for citations. The way that OSHA determines each fine varies, but if you are aware of a problem within your establishment and fail to do something about it, the penalty involved can be even greater and you may be cited with a willful citation.

For example, a production and distribution company is facing upwards of $130,000 in fines and fees due to an accident that occurred in their facility. This incident severely injured the worker and was said to have occurred as a result of two repeat violations of machine safety standards. Another company, Smithfield Foods, faced fines of more than $13,000 related to not offering workers an environment safe from Covid-19 and/or failing to implement proper Covid-19 precautions, according to this citation.

Follow OSHA Regulations to Prevent Accidents & Injuries

Food Storage

Every year, thousands of workers in restaurants and the foodservice industry suffer injuries in the workplace. In fact, according to a JOEM study, food industry workers are 60% more likely to suffer occupational illness or injury compared to workers in other industries outside of foodservice. This number may seem high, especially when you consider that as a division of the United States Department of Labor, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) exists to protect employees throughout many industries. Whatever type of foodservice business you may own or work in, complying with OSHA standards is key to keeping your business free of known hazards. OSHA has implemented a number of rules and regulations for both the restaurant industry and general work environments that may apply to your business.

Here are a few ways that you can reduce workplace injuries and ensure a safer workplace:

  1. Ensure all employees wear proper shoes while working in the kitchen or throughout their shifts to prevent slipping and falling. There are shoes made specifically for foodservice workers, but anything that boasts a non-slip or slip-resistant sole is recommended.
  2. Work constantly to keep floors dry and clean of messes and spills. If there are certain areas that are prone to water buildup, such as around refrigerators or ice machines, ensure that they are dried regularly. You may even want to consider installing anti-slip flooring materials.
  3. Place non-skid rubber mats throughout your kitchen and workspaces. These types of rugs and mats, when placed around doorways, preparation areas, and locations that have running water (such as sinks or beverage stations) can help your employees avoid slipping and falling. It is important to replace these mats often when they start to roll or rip.
  4. Remove clutter from potentially dangerous areas. Employees should be able to move around their work stations with ease and often are carrying items that may block their line of view. If you have anything on the floor that is in the way, it can lead to them tripping and hurting themselves.
  5. Teach your staff about key safety methods. Whether you have highly experienced employees working for you or individuals who are new to foodservice, it is essential that you teach your staff about safe methods for using knives, lifting and carrying, and how to stay protected from burns when handling hot pans and pots.

Restaurant-Specific OSHA Guidelines for Safety

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As times change and new unforseen circumstances arise, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic, OSHA releases new guidelines to protect workers. The intention of these new guidelines that have recently been put in place include taking steps to reduce risk to employees of being exposed to Covid-19. For example, workers who are sick or have exhibited signs of Covid-19 should stay home or go home. Whenever possible, direct contact between guests and employees should be avoided, especially if you are operating a take-out service. Routinely cleaning all equipment, surfaces, and preparation areas, and ensuring that your establishment is stocked up with the proper maintenance, cleaning, and disinfection supplies should be a top priority.

Taking proactive steps to understand these risks your workers face in the foodservice industry is the most effective ways to reduce injuries and achieve a safer workplace. Ensuring that your employees feel safe at work and comfortable to let you know when they don't feel well or have suffered an injury is very important to creating a healthier environment. If you do witness a worker suffer an injury on the job or have one reported to you, it is important that you act right away. Follow all the proper protocols for workers' compensation, including making sure your employee knows that their health and safety is being looked out for by you and your team.

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