COVID-19 & Restaurant Safety Training

Topics: Workers' Compensation Loss Control

Summary: Workplace safety in restaurants is always a significant concern. Matt Zender, SVP of Workers’ Compensation Strategy at AmTrust, shares the importance of employee training in restaurant safety every day, but more so during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Importance of Safety Training for Restaurant Workers

By Matt Zender, SVP of Workers’ Compensation Strategy at AmTrust

In the wake of COVID-19, worker safety has taken on a new meaning. It is well understood that slips and falls, cuts and burns, strains and sprains are part of the restaurant business. But now restaurant owners and managers are faced with a new dilemma: protecting employees and guests from the spread of a virus.

In a typical year, the number of workers in the restaurant business will increase by 500,000 from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but it is impossible to know what will happen this year. Many restaurants will open at 25% of capacity or outdoor dining or delivery only – or some combination of those options.

The COVID-19 pandemic raises many new issues for restaurants – some of which are counter-intuitive.

Attracting & Hiring Restaurant Employees

At a time when so many people have lost their jobs, it should be easy to find new employees. In fact, it’s not. At the quick service level, enhanced unemployment benefits for workers have made it more attractive to collect unemployment than to work at minimum wage. Also, in a business where working closely with others is the norm, some people simply are afraid of going back to work. Consider too that many resorts and vacation destinations rely on workers from other countries who simply can’t or won’t get J-1 visas this year.

Seasonal waitstaff turnover is expected, but that is only part of the problem. Many restaurants are reporting that chefs and bartenders have left, meaning attracting and hiring is an across-the-board challenge from the front of the house to the back.

Training for Restaurant Workers

Not surprisingly, less tenured workers file the most workers’ compensation claims. That speaks to the volume of young people in the restaurant workforce, but also they lack the experience of industry veterans. Training can address many issues, but some employees don’t receive adequate training for what is often only seasonal employment. Less training equals more injuries.

Sadly, COVID-19 has made training much more difficult. While some training, such as knife skills, can be taught online, historically, this training has quite literally been “hands-on.” Also, new workers need training on ergonomics to avoid injuries from lifting heavy items such as crates of vegetables or a sack of flour, as just two examples.

Displacement of the Restaurant Safety Dollar

The good news for restauranteurs is that insurance premiums are directly tied to payroll, so as payroll goes down, so too does the cost of insurance. The bad news, of course, there is far less money to work with given overall impacts of the pandemic on businesses. There are new costs and distractions critical to ensuring the safety of guests and employees, including Plexiglass barriers, face shields, masks, gloves, frequent sanitization and other safety precautions.

When putting these measures in place, restaurant owners and managers must take care to maintain worker safety from a holistic, 360-degree perspective. Wearing a mask can fog the glasses of a worker handling a knife. The N-95 mask is classified by OSHA as a respiratory device and could be dangerous if worn by an asthmatic employee.

COVID-19 has brought new challenges to the workplace, but all the traditional risks of cuts, burns and scrapes have not gone anywhere. With that in mind – as restaurants adjust to the “new normal” – we urge owners and managers to beware of the displacement of the worker safety dollar. OSHA has estimated that for every $1 a business spends on safety programs anywhere from $4-$6 is saved on the costs associated with worker injuries and fatalities. Other studies have shown the average restaurant will have four workers’ compensation claims a year at an average cost of $45,000. With these figures in mind, even if tough times, we believe it is important, if not critical, for restaurants to try and maintain their safety spend.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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