Shoes can make a difference for employee comfort, accident prevention
Once a year, Los Angeles-based Rosti Tuscan Kitchen buys new shoes for kitchen employees at its two locations. As owner Kevin Goldfein sees it, it’s an investment in his staff that pays off. Good shoes with non-slip soles prevent accidents, particularly falls, which can be common in a kitchen where oil and flour are used liberally.
Goldfein orders the shoes from a specialty manufacturer of work shoes. They aren’t quite as attractive as street shoes, he says, but they do a much better job of taking care of his employees. “It’s function before form,” Goldfein says. “I think the small deterioration in style is certainly worth it, and they’re really not that bad. They’ve come out with some new styles and they’ve continued to improve on them over the years. Guests don’t even notice they’re special work shoes.”
For front of the house employees, Goldfein buys one pair initially, and then employees must pay for subsequent pairs. He requires slip-resistant shoes even for the waitstaff because they are often in the kitchen. Some even purchase orthopedic inserts for shoes, which increase the comfort of the shoes. The cost of the shoes comes out of pre-tax dollars from the employees’ paychecks, Goldfein says, giving them a little bit of a cost break. “We just want our employees to be safe,” he adds.
It may not seem to be the most pressing topic, but good shoes can make a big difference for the comfort and health of employees in a fast-paced workplace like a pizza restaurant. Ted Travis, marketing manager for TredSafe in Upland, California, says slip-and- fall accidents are among the largest liabilities a restaurant has. Restaurants “are very susceptible to floor contaminates from the public walking into the facility and bringing in snow, mud and water, and typically in the kitchen area, behind the counter, are contaminates like vegetable grease and oil and a combination of flour and water on the floor,” Travis says.
Shoe policies for a restaurant should include requiring closed-heel and closed-toe shoes, particularly in kitchens. “If someone drops a hot dish, you want to have the foot protected,” Travis says.
Goldfein also points out that when he has a workers’ compensation inspection at his restaurant, one of the questions he’s asked is if the staff is required to wear slip-resistant shoes – and he can confidently answer yes, giving him a discount on the insurance.
It’s also worth noting that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that employers ensure that anyone whose feet are exposed to hazards or potential injuries from falling or rolling objects, electrical hazards or piercing the sole wear protective footwear, according to the Web site for O.S.H.A., which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor.
At L’asso in New York City, owner Robert Benevenga wears sneakers with a slip-resistant sole to get him through long days in the restaurant. His chefs make a different choice. “We have two chefs, a pastry and the main chef,” Benevenga explained. “The main chef likes to wear those wooden clogs that help support his lower back and keeps him standing up straight. I personally don’t like those. The other chef likes to wear (a slip-on shoe with an open heel, commonly marketed as Crocs).”
Because his restaurant is located in Manhattan, servers and front-house staff do tend to wear dressier shoes than they might in other areas of the country, Benevenga says. Most employees wear black shoes, as the shoes look dressier and work better with the restaurant’s décor, although he doesn’t require it. Benevenga added a no-exposed-toes rule after customers complained that they had no interest in seeing a server’s feet.
Benevenga doesn’t specifically require no-slip shoes, because he uses non-slip rubber mats throughout the work areas (although he does prefer it). He thinks more about the ergonomics of shoes than anything else in his own shoe selection.
“If you’re on your feet for 10 hour days, your feet will hurt you at the end of the day,” Benevenga says. “If people don’t have good arch support, it definitely could turn into a foot problem.”
Ergonomics are an important part of shoe selection, Travis says, and a good shoe should have plenty of arch support and be lightweight with a cushioned sole. An orthopedic insole, particularly one custom-designed, can provide huge benefits over the long term. That investment may be well worth it for those with back problems or for those working the longest hours, such as managers or owners. Over-the- counter insoles can provide a bit more cushioning, but really don’t do much long-term good for the feet or back, Travis says.
Travis cautions restaurant owners that shoe choice isn’t everything in preventing costly accidents. No shoe can be entirely slip-resistant. Good floor practices are still crucial. “There is no such thing as a shoe that is 100-percent slip-resistant,” Travis says. “Most slip-resistant shoe companies have a disclaimer. It’s impossible to provide.”
When you’re shopping for employee shoes, pay attention to the details, says Ted Travis, marketing manager for TredSafe, a manufacturer of workplace shoes. Look for the following characteristics:
- Leather construction uppers. Shoes with vinyl uppers keep the foot from breathing, and are more inclined to trap bacteria.
- Slip-resistant. Sole design and special rubber compound are the elements that make a shoe more resistant to falls.
- Oil-resistant. This refers to the top of the shoe, and indicates dropping oil on it won’t stain it.
- Arch support. Proper construction will support the entire foot, but particularly the arch.
- Mark II F-177 tested. This indicates that the shoe’s slip- resistant qualities are effective both when dry substances are spilled as well as wet.
- Anti-microbial footbed. Wicks away moisture and prevents bacteria from growing.
Robyn Davis Sekula is a longtime contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in New Albany, Indiana.