Ensuring the health and safety of your employees as they work in your restaurant is essential to running a successful foodservice business. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) is dedicated to protecting employees from workplace injuries and abuses, so it's important for business owners to be aware of OSHA's rules and regulations. To learn more about OSHA for restaurants and how to maintain compliance at your establishment, keep reading!
What is the Main Purpose of OSHA
The main goal behind OSHA is to establish that having a safe workplace is a basic human right and that no worker should have to choose between their life and their job. Accordingly, OSHA sets and enforces safety standards while also providing employers and employees with outreach, assistance, education, and training.
Since OSHA’s inception in 1971, workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths have decreased significantly. The Act covers almost all private sector employees and most public sector employees who aren’t already protected by government worker safety programs.
OSHA Employer Obligations
As an employer, it’s crucial that you’re aware of the protections OSHA offers your employees. To stay compliant with the Act’s rules and regulations, make sure to do the following:
Purpose of OSHA
Provide employees with a workplace that’s free from OSHA-recognized hazards.
Clearly communicate your business’s operating procedures, so that employees can easily understand health and safety requirements.
Post a government-issued OSHA poster that informs employees of their responsibilities and rights in a noticeable location, such as your cafeteria or break room.
Maintain detailed records of workplace injuries and illnesses, and make sure employee medical records can easily be obtained by employees or their representatives.
Consider joining an injury and illness prevention program, which is designed to help you and your employees reduce the number of workplace injuries. In turn, this could help keep everyone healthy and reduce medical expenses for both employers and employees.
Following these basic procedures will help you keep your employees safe and will also save your business money in fines and medical bills.
OSHA Employee Protections
In addition to understanding OSHA’s basic protections, it’s important to be aware of the two main types of complaints your workers can file. The first one is a safety and health complaint, while the other is a protection from retaliation.
Safety and health complaints are filed by employees who believe their working conditions are unsafe or detrimental to their health. Before filing, workers should try to bring the issue to their employer’s attention in an attempt to correct the problem without involving OSHA. If this isn’t possible, though, employees can file a confidential report with OSHA to request an inspection of their workplace.
Protection from retaliation complaints (also known as whistleblower complaints) can be filed by employees who believe they’ve been retaliated against for submitting a complaint to OSHA. It’s illegal for any business to demote, transfer, or fire employees who exercise their OSHA rights.
Addressing your employees’ concerns and maintaining open lines of communication can go a long way towards avoiding OSHA complaints, but it’s still important to be prepared for potential inspections regardless of any raised concerns.
If your facility is selected for an OSHA inspection, don’t panic! Being knowledgeable of the process beforehand can help alleviate any of your potential concerns. The four main stages of OSHA inspections are detailed below.
Before they visit your foodservice establishment, an OSHA compliance officer will review your inspection history. Additionally, they’ll acquaint themselves with the type of business you have and review the standards that apply to your type of establishment.
When the compliance officer arrives, make sure they provide a photo ID and their serial number. They’ll introduce themselves, and then you’ll proceed to a meeting room or your office for a brief opening conference.
OSHA Employee Protections
The opening conference is conducted between the OSHA compliance officer, restaurant representatives, and, if applicable, your employees’ union representative. During the opening conference, the compliance officer will explain why your establishment was chosen for an inspection and the inspection’s purpose. Additionally, they may have a warrant that allows them to access specific documents, such as your injury and illness log. Once the conference has concluded, the involved parties will commence the facility tour.
During the facility tour, the OSHA compliance officer will conduct a walk-through of your restaurant. They’ll probably take notes and photographs during the inspection, and they’re also allowed to talk with your employees. If you’d like, you can accompany them.
Keep in mind that while you’re permitted to correct any violations noted by the compliance officer during their walk-through, you may still be cited for those violations. Once the OSHA compliance officer has finished their walk-through, they’ll meet with you again to discuss the results of their inspection. They won’t impose any immediate citations or penalties, but you will be informed of any violations they found and given a timetable to correct the problems. Additionally, you’ll receive a copy of the OSHA publication titled “Employer Rights and Responsibilities Following an OSHA Inspection.”
Be sure to correct any violations found by the compliance officer within the established timetable. Failure to do so could result in your facility being shut down by OSHA, which will damage your reputation and could put you out of business permanently.
OSHA Rules and Regulations for Restaurants
While OSHA’s general rules and regulations also apply to foodservice businesses, it’s important to be aware of the specific hazards your employees may encounter. Additionally, you should be knowledgeable regarding your workers’ OSHA rights in order to keep your establishment running smoothly.
OSHA Restaurant Hazards
There are a diverse range of potential safety hazards that your employees can encounter at your restaurant on a daily basis. These general hazards include the following:
- Slips, trips, and falls on slippery floors
- Back and arm strain from lifting heavy trays and boxes
- Burns from hot servingware and cooking equipment
- Cuts during food preparation
- Injuries from workplace violence
- Back and leg strain from standing for extended periods of time
- Skin or eye irritation from spilled chemicals
Despite the potential for workplace injuries in foodservice environments, it’s easy to make your restaurant a safe place to work. A few of the most effective strategies are detailed below.
Ensuring Safety at Your Restaurant OSHA Inspections
Wondering how to ensure a safe workplace for your employees? Check out the tips and strategies below to learn about adhering to OSHA regulations for restaurant kitchens.
Employees who directly handle food should wash their hands and food prep utensils with warm water and soap before coming into contact with food. Make sure they’re also thoroughly cleaning surfaces in prep areas in order to prevent the growth and spread of bacteria. They should also be wearing disposable latex gloves for maximized protection against foodborne illnesses.
This is an easy one – make sure your floors are clean and dry, especially near bars and sinks. These areas should have adequate drainage to keep pools of water from forming. You can also use rubber floor mats and raised platforms to keep employees safe. Additionally, ensure there are no loose tiles or bumps and holes in your carpet that workers could slip or trip on.
Kitchen Temperatures and Safety
Kitchens can become extremely hot over the course of a long shift, so it’s essential to provide employees with cool areas to take their breaks in. When you’re training new workers, teach them how to determine if someone is dehydrated or suffering from heat exhaustion. Similarly, make sure all of your employees know how to administer first aid to coworkers in need. Following OSHA regulations on the temperature of restaurant kitchens can go a long way towards keeping your workers comfortable and safe.
Ensure you’re in compliance with OSHA restaurant age regulations concerning the type of work that minors can perform and how many hours they’re legally allowed to work. These rules will vary based upon the minor’s age – for example, individuals under age 16 may not cook, bake, handle knives, or use appliances that could result in injury. The number of hours your younger employees may work also varies based upon the time of year, as more work hours are typically permitted on days when the minor isn’t at school.
Statistics show that more than 30% of restaurant employees are 20 years old or younger, and foodservice often provides minors with their first real-world job experience. This sector of the workforce can be very valuable to restaurant owners, so it’s important that you look out for their safety in order to provide an enjoyable work environment and avoid OSHA violations.
Training OSHA Restaurant Hazards
Finally, you must provide your employees with the training and knowledge they need to stay safe at your restaurant. This should be made up of both theoretical and hands-on training to make sure workers know how to stay safe from the day of their very first shift.
Restaurant Employee OSHA Rights
Your restaurant’s employees have a number of rights that are guaranteed under OSHA. In order to create a safe and pleasant working environment, you should also be aware of these protections. A few of the most important employee rights are listed below.
- The right to a safe and healthy workplace.
- The right to file a worker’s compensation claim if injured on the job.
- The right to be paid minimum wage. Alternately, the hourly wage and tips for tipped employees must be equal to the state’s minimum wage.
- The right to be paid overtime if more than 40 hours are worked in a week.
- The right to a 30-minute meal break during a day shift or any shift longer than six hours.
- The right to protection from discrimination.
- The right to protection by laws concerning working minors (if under 18 years of age).
Whether you run a warehouse, factory, or restaurant, it’s important to have an understanding of the rules, regulations, and protections imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). This legislation and its enforcing organization are designed to keep workers safe and can also help you create a more positive and supportive workplace for your valued employees.