June 1, 2018 |

EMERGENCY: What do you do when disaster strikes?

By Dan Collier

emergency planning

Emergency Planning

What happens when the pepperoni hits the fan? When natural disaster hits, or some ethically challenged person wants the contents of the cash drawer or someone in your pizzeria needs medical assistance, what is your plan?

Every pizzeria needs an emergency plan. If you have 20 or more employees, it’s the law. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the agency tasked with enforcement. If you have less than 20 employees, a written emergency plan may still be required by your state.

The essence of emergency planning revolves around injury — how to avoid injury and what to do if injury occurs, for your employees and your customers. Here are areas to address in your emergency plan:

  • Restaurant facilities
  • Sickness
  • Delivery drivers
  • Criminals and trespassers
  • Mother Nature

An emergency plan has two goals: avoid injury and act if an injury occurs.


Restaurant Facilities

  • Slips and falls. Restaurant floors get wet. To avoid slipping, each employee must report to work wearing slip-resistant shoes. I recommend an employee-of-the-month incentive program that rewards new slip-resistant shoes. Wet-floor signs are used to alert both employees and customers to walk carefully. Wet-floor signs and non-slip carpeted mats for the doorways should be standard equipment.
  • Equipment. The biggest challenge for pizzerias is when equipment breaks. Often, to repair it you will need a service technician or a new part. Do not operate equipment that is broken. Use another method of preparation until the equipment is repaired. It may cost hundreds or even thousands to repair, but that price pales in comparison to the cost of injury. In some states, allowing broken equipment to remain in use can lead to initial fines of more than $40,000, plus the cost of the injured employee’s medical care and loss of income.



  • Employees working while ill. We are constantly faced with a dilemma in our industry. An employee is sick, but we do not have a replacement. Our responsibility is for food safety first. That means that no employee with stomach illness or flu symptoms may come in contact with food. Although it will affect service, you must send them home to protect others.
  • Food poisoning. You have read the stories of people becoming violently sick, permanently disabled or even dying from food poisoning. Every employee should have passed a food-safety class. Handwashing, cross-contamination, food temperature safety and product rotation should all be daily conversations in your pizzeria. “Cold food cold” (40 F or lower) and “Hot food hot” (140 F or higher) is both a matter of procedures and working refrigeration and heating equipment.


Delivery Drivers

  • Accidents. The largest workers’ compensation claims are due to delivery driver accidents. Require all drivers to provide motor vehicle reports showing safe driving records before they begin work. Your non-owned auto insurance company should conduct regular checks (called “pulls”) on your drivers records to verify they remain safe drivers.


Criminals and Trespassers

  • Robbery. Although more and more customers use digital forms of payment, we still deal in cash. The robber doesn’t know if there is $20 or $500 in the cash register or the driver’s pocket until after the deed is done. Operational procedures that transfer cash from both to a safe that cannot be opened by the crew, with signs indicating this, is a best practice. Security cameras in the pizzeria are a must.
  • Trespassers. Your responsibility is to your employees and your customers. Restrict restroom use to only your customers, requiring any non-customer to request permission. Keep your grounds well-lit overnight so your employees can see any loiterers. Do not allow non-customers to hang around outside or inside your pizzeria. Ask them to leave. Or, if necessary, call the police.


Mother Nature

  • Fire, flood, earthquake, tornado and hurricane. Three of my restaurants were within one mile of the largest fire in California history. Subsequent rains caused mudslides that killed 23 people. The most effective deterrent to injury from natural disasters is lines of communication. When the fire hit I determined a plan of action, which I communicated with my key people, who then contacted their employees. The next morning, we reported to work knowing how to stay safe and accomplish our mission to serve the community. Employees who needed time to evacuate their families were instructed to do so and then report to work once everyone was safe. We contacted the first-responder organizations and donated pizza to support their efforts to save lives and property. We posted on social media our intent to continue these donations and to remain open to serve. We contacted our customers through text and e-mail. Coming together to provide support to our community with a safety-first plan, using cell phones and social media to communicate, proved to be an effective way to combat Mother Nature.


How do you act in the event of injury? Every person who is able is responsible for self-assessment. A customer or employee who is injured while on your pizzeria premises must report the injury to the person in charge. Employees should be directed to the medical care facility you have identified. Customers make their own decision as to where to go for medical assistance. Under no circumstances would you provide transportation or medical advice. If the person is not conscious, or unable to make choices about their own medical care, call 911.

Put together a binder titled OSHA Emergency Plans with three sections. The first section is a training documentation. Use one page per quarter (January through March, etc.) with a line for every employee’s printed name, signature and the date they were trained. The second section is the emergency plan as outlined above. The third section is accident documentation. One page per injury with the facts of the incident; date, injured person’s information, results and future avoidance.

Review the OSHA Emergency Plan as part of new employee orientation. Once per quarter, review the emergency plan either one-on-one or in groups and have each employee sign and date.

The next time the pepperoni hits the fan, your pizzeria will be ready! 

Dan Collier is the founder of Pizza Man Dan’s in California and a speaker at International Pizza Expo.