2010 August: Safe & Sound

Running a pair of independent pizzerias in northern Georgia, Ron Kaes knows that one serious workplace injury can spoil the two Paparonni’s pizzerias he’s dedicated himself to over the last 16 years.

“Workplace safety ought to be a concern for any business owner, but especially for the owner-operator who can least afford lost productivity or the potential financial loss associated with medical bills and lawsuits,” Kaes says.

Understanding that they inherit the responsibility of employee and guest safety as well as the financial burden of rising insurance premiums, production inefficiencies, or, worse, costly litigation should a serious injury occur, wise operators embrace workplace safety.

“Either pay attention and be observant or you’ll put yourself at risk in unwanted ways,” warns restaurant consultant Nancy Caldarola of Atlanta based Concept Associates. “You want your employees to have fun, to enjoy the work, but you can’t let them lose sight of safety or you’ll lose sight of money.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the incidence of reported injuries for cooks and food preparation workers sits “comparatively high compared to all occupations,” even if the job hazards, such as falls, cuts, and burns, are seldom serious. That said, operators must remain mindful, attentive, and on guard.

“The engaged owner-operator will usually notice potential safety issues long before a manager or shift supervisor because of his experience and his financial interest,” Kaes reminds.

Since pizzeria operators face the significant challenge of an employee pool with high turnover and wide-ranging work pedigrees, proper training and supervision become critical to creating a safe workplace.

Kaes, a strong proponent of teen employment, sets his goal as providing a wholesome training environment alongside a realistic culture of accountability. While he inherits the burden of establishing procedures, providing proper training and promoting a culture of professionalism, he demands his staff commit to personal attentiveness, reminding them with signs, placards and safety instructions that procedures exist for everything and safety is paramount. It’s a message championed by others.

“There is a safe way to make pizzas and conduct business, and this needs to be communicated to employees over and over,” says Daniel Hartwig, president of General Health and Safety Services Corp. in Punta Gorda, Florida.

Though falls, cuts, and burns remain the three most common restaurant industry injuries, a few proactive, attentive changes can help minimize risk.

Wet, slippery floors, most often caused by weather or spills, heighten the risk of slips and falls. As a general rule, keep floors dry and clean of debris, including broken or loose tiles, a guideline that not only reduces injury risk but communicates pride of ownership. Proper floor-washing procedures, utilizing the two-bucket system with a deck brush and mop, will further help minimize risk and showcase the restaurant’s cleanliness.

On poor weather days, assign a staff member the duty of clearing excess water and placing down additional rugs, which every operator should have on hand. Also, utilize yellow caution signage as a reminder of the elements.

Other recommended policies include: instituting a simple-to-follow spill rule — when anything hits the floor, clean it up immediately; insisting that employees wear non-skid footwear, a policy that can produce a price break from insurance companies; requiring the use of rolling bus carts for moving all dough trays and bulky items; and finally, establishing a strict “no horseplay” policy.

Improper training, broken equipment and not having the proper cutting gloves are most often the culprits behind cuts. Solutions include replacing or sharpening knives frequently and performing suggested maintenance on key equipment, minor tasks that can save big money. Also, limit knife use only to those who have been trained in handling, policies and procedures.

“Issues most often happen when things get busy and someone picks up a knife to help out, but doesn’t know proper techniques or gets easily distracted,” says Caldarola, who sliced her own finger as a teen restaurant employee. “Reiterate to employees that everything’s in its place and everything has a place.”

Additionally, Hartwig, the father of two pizzeria-working sons, reminds that cuts are not only a work-related issued, but also a sanitary issue. Blood or bandages in food can create sick customers and negative PR.

“Given the nature of the pizzeria business, with employees hustling during those hot hours, someone often doesn’t tend to a cut right away or doesn’t tend to it properly and that’s something operators want to avoid.” In the kitchen, burns happen. It’s as easy to mistakenly touch a hot pan or oven deck as it is for hot grease, a particularly common kitchen inhabitant as pizzerias diversify their menu offerings, to leap onto the skin. Combating burns begins with wearing proper coverage, including gloves, aprons and eyewear, and having a ready supply of working pan grips and mittens available to employees, thereby removing the temptation to remove a hot pan from the oven with a wet towel. Letting the equipment cool down before cleaning should also be stressed, perhaps providing a staging area solely for cooling equipment.

“We can be our own worst enemy when we fail to do the simple, little things that create a safe working environment,” Caldarola says. ?

The Pizzeria’s First Aid Kit

In spite of an operator’s best efforts to eliminate workplace injuries, cuts and burns, slips and falls are bound to happen wherever and whenever humans are involved. Recognizing this reality, Caldarola suggests operators prepare a first-aid kit stocked with:

? Small and large adhesive bandages
? Liquid medical soap
? Two 40-inch triangular bandages
? Cotton applicators
? Antiseptic
? Ammonia inhalants
? Two-inch gauze roller bandage
? Stretch roller gauze
? Gauze compresses
? Large gauze compresses for pressure dressing
? One-inch adhesive roll tape
? Chemical cold packs
? Tongue depressors

To further enhance the environment’s safety, operators might add an OSHA-approved Blood Spill Kit, a law in many states, as well as a CDC and OSHA-approved Vomit Clean-Up Kit. Operators should assume that any blood is contaminated and that any vomit and a 10-foot perimeter are tainted and pose a health hazard.

Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.