Restaurant workers are especially vulnerable to a wide variety of work hazards that result in serious injuries, temporary and permanent disabilities, and even death.
Workplace Hazards in the Food Industry
The restaurant industry has one of the largest workforces in the United States. It employs millions of full-time and part-time workers in establishments across the country and creates approximately $800 billion in annual revenue. People of all ages are employed within the restaurant industry as managers, accountants, food servers, cooks, bartenders, and cleaners. In 2019, there were 13.5 million people employed as workers in American restaurants.
For millions of restaurant workers, the industry provides a steady source of income from regular paychecks and customer tips. However, it also poses a variety of significant accident and injury risks that are often overlooked. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, restaurant workers employed in full-service establishments suffered 93,800 non-fatal illnesses and injuries in 2019. At least one-third of victims required at least one day away from work, while others required two to four days off due to more severe injuries. In Chicago, a high rate of injury claims by restaurant workers throughout the city is present.
Restaurant workers face a variety of work-related hazards that often result in injuries. Common causes of accidents and injuries include:
- Wet or slippery floors in customer and kitchen areas
- Damaged or uneven floors and stairways
- Cooking appliances like stoves, grills, and deep fryers
- Sharp utensils and kitchen tools
- Lifting heavy objects
- Exposure to harmful chemicals
Although restaurant workers in all age groups face work-related hazards, teenage and young adult workers sustain a large percentage of injuries. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA), approximately 44,800 teen and young adult restaurant workers are injured each year, and about 63% of injuries occur in fast-food restaurants with a rapid turnover of customers.
Most Common Restaurant Injuries
OSHA reports show that the highest percentage of restaurant workplace accidents result in common injuries to workers across all age groups. In restaurants that are especially busy or stay open late hours, the risks of serious injuries are greater because workers must move at a faster pace.
Muscle Strains and Sprains
Restaurant workers commonly lift and move a variety of boxes, food items, service trays, and kitchen tools on a daily basis. Constant lifting, stretching, and bending puts a lot of exertion on body parts, limbs, and muscles. Muscle strains and sprains and torn ligaments are common injuries seen by workers’ compensation lawyers among workers in the food industry, construction, warehouse operations, and industrial facilities.
Lacerations and Punctures
Most cuts, lacerations, and puncture wounds happen in the restaurant kitchen where food preparation is constant throughout the day. Chefs and cooks use a variety of sharp tools such as knives, choppers, electric slicers, and grinders that can easily cause deep lacerations and puncture wounds. In addition, broken plates, serving dishes, glassware, and coffee cups are a common occurrence in a busy kitchen, as well as on dropped serving trays by waiters and waitresses.
Fractured and Broken Bones
Slip and fall accidents are the leading cause of fractured and broken bones for restaurant workers. Slip and falls represent the highest restaurant injury risks and account for the most missed time from the workplace than any other injury. Wet or slippery floors caused by spilled food and liquids, damp mopping, too much floor wax, and floors without slip-resistance are the main causes of serious fall injuries for restaurant workers.
Restaurant kitchen workers are especially vulnerable to burns from hot stoves and ovens, cooktops, open grills, and frying pans filled with hot foods or liquids. Cooking always poses injury risks, but in a restaurant with non-stop meal preparation cooking becomes a significant danger. Burn injuries can cause severe pain, scarring, disfigurement, and permanent disability. OSHA reports show that 50% of severe burn injuries in restaurant kitchens are caused by hot oils and grease fires.
Restaurant workers often suffer eye injuries due to splashes from boiling water, hot grease, and cleaning solvents. Kitchen workers, food servers, and cleaning crews rarely wear protective eyewear to avoid the possibility of eye injuries. Although eye injuries are less common than strained muscles, back injuries, broken bones, and burns, they can result in severe eye damage that temporarily or permanently impacts vision. In severe accidents, workplace eye injuries result in blindness.
Restaurant workers are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for injuries suffered in the course and scope of normal job duties, regardless of who is responsible for the accident and resulting injuries. In some cases, restaurant workers can file a third-party injury claim, if the injury was work-related and caused by a party outside of the workplace.