I recently came across an article intended to help restaurateurs better control their workers’ compensation costs. It contained a lot of good points and advice to accomplish the stated goal. However, having cut my teeth in the restaurant industry, there were a few points that the article left out. 

Naturally it is my duty to correct that oversight.

First, the points that the author presented. They were:

  • Conduct routine examinations of the kitchen and prep areas
  • Make sure all the equipment is in working order
  • Always follow health and safety standards set by OSHA, state, and local health departments
  • Regularly train employees on safety procedures and how to properly handle equipment
  • Mandate that all employees wear proper clothing when working in the kitchen
  • Use only high-quality knives and other tools used to cut, chop or slice food
  • Use the right kitchen tool based on its specifications
  • Keep all knives sharp
  • Clean cutting equipment after every use
  • Place non-slip mats underneath the cutting boards to keep them in place
  • Make sure that the first aid kit has bandages and other supplies to treat cuts and lacerations
  • Place warning signs to inform people if the floor is slippery
  • Keep all counters and walkways free from clutter
  • Maintain a clean work area by cleaning food spills and debris as soon as possible
  • Check all water pipes and drainage systems to ensure that there are no leaks
  • Before lifting any heavy objects, make sure to pinpoint where it should be put down
  • Lift the object properly—straight back, bent knees
  • Take a break every now and then when doing a repetitive task
  • Do some simple exercises to keep the blood flowing throughout the body

As you can see, it is pretty sound advice. However, with years of hospitality industry management under my belt, I can assure you that they missed a few of the finer points around workers’ comp cost control. Therefore, I would like to offer the following points as well:

  • Don’t hire idiots – You see, while there are a lot of good, well-meaning and hardworking people in the food service industry, it has more than its fair share of misfits and ne’er do wells. In fact, you should rest comfortably knowing that your food is being prepared and delivered by poorly paid, lower educated people with a much higher incidence of drug abuse and poor life skills than the average population. Many of your larger and more expensive workers’ comp claims will be generated by the people with the most prevalent personal issues. You should avoid hiring them in the first place.

  • Your multiple small injury employee is your loss time claim waiting to happen – The person in your restaurant who has multiple small med-only claims; the cut that requires a couple stitches, the burn that requires a quick trip to ER, is just warming up. Statistically their carelessness is going to lead to the major incident that takes them off the job and drives your mod rates up. You would be advised to document their poor safety habits and help them pursue other career objectives before you become their retirement plan.

  • When someone is sucking the gas from the cans of whipped cream, don’t send your prime suspect to the store for replacements – Ok, this is a broader tale of substance abuse and situational awareness, but it all applies to comp. Many people don’t know that you can get a brief high by snorting the gas from cans of whipped cream. This unfortunately leaves the product unusable, as the cream simply oozes out of the can as a flaccid liquid instead of fluffy whipped cream. Back in my days as a General Manager, we had a “huffer’ who was ruining all of our whipped cream in this manner. We had a suspect but couldn’t prove anything. One day one of my Assistant Managers, faced with this issue, sent our prime suspect to the store to purchase more. Not surprisingly, all of the cans were flat when we got them.

    The point for this one is that aberrant behavior should not be tolerated. This particular problem led to one of the most unusual terminations I ever had to make. I was walking past an open walk-in cooler, when behind the plastic air curtain, I heard the tell-tale sounds of a whipped cream can being “activated.” I pulled back the curtain to find a very surprised 16-year-old dishwasher, holding a can near his whipped cream covered mouth. We terminated him on the spot. It was quite a sight, this big hulking kid with whipped cream still on his face, crying and worried about what I would tell his parents (nothing). It was sad, but he wasn’t going to get hurt while under any influence on my watch.

  • Don’t develop a culture of tolerance for poor behavior – This has applications across all business categories. Short staffed and undermanned businesses frequently sacrifice their standards for warm bodies or look beyond substandard behavior to avoid losing someone. This is a huge and often expensive mistake. Nowhere can this be more prevalent than in the food service industry, particularly during periods of low unemployment when there simply aren’t enough workers to meet the need. 

Ultimately, the people you select and the expectations you set will do more for ensuring controllable workers’ comp costs than any standard outlined in these articles. Those standards are criteria that responsible people can follow, but they are useless if your culture does not embrace them. 

So while the advice “Don’t hire idiots” is relevant, we should probably add “Don’t be an idiot” when it comes to supervising your operation. Accepting substandard behavior will only produce substandard results; both in customer service and workers’ compensation costs.


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