While company leaders value it, budget for it, train workers about it and demonstrate it by promoting safety at every turn, workplace injuries still number in the millions annually.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, private sector businesses report more than three million work-related injuries and illnesses per year. With all the technology, training and financial support that many companies dedicate to keeping their employees safe, obviously, there are those that still struggle to reduce their contribution to that three million statistic.
Perhaps a closer look at a single, preventable category may shed some light on how companies might address improvements in their approach to workplace safety.
Practices that Reduce Scald Burns
In the United States, burn injuries are one of the most frequent (and universal) causes of injury. While many associate burns with fire, in fact, burns are caused more often by liquids than by flames.
According to the Burn Foundation, 500,000 scald burns (burns that result from contact with hot liquids) occur in the U.S. every year. And, hot tap water is one of the primary causes.1
The American Burn Association reports that 33 percent of all burn center admissions are for scalds caused by wet or moist heat from hot liquid or steam coming in contact with the skin.2 Naturally, food preparation is the perfect environment for scald injuries to occur.
Food service is a special case, but businesses in every sector are vulnerable to these types of accidents. Any company that employs janitorial staff or cafeteria workers who handle hot water and other liquids when performing their jobs must also consider the ramifications of inadequate safety practices.
Unsafe Work Environments
Particularly in fast food and other restaurant environments with crowded kitchens, the hectic pace of work and handling of hot liquids being the norm exacerbate safety problems. From pouring coffee, filling hot food chafing trays, to carrying water for food preparation, the potential for accidents are inherent in these work environments.
Statistics reflect this. The food service industry experiences the highest number of burns of any employment sector.3 Cooks, food handlers, kitchen workers, and wait staff work with a myriad of hot liquids including water, coffee, soup and sauces at temperatures high enough to cause serious burn injury.
Outside of the kitchen, janitorial and housekeeping activities have similar risks. Drawing hot water for diluting cleaning materials, floor mopping and any other use where a large volume of hot water is carried, are commonly performed using open pitchers, jerrycans and glass containers – equipment not designed for these tasks, nor that exhibit adequate safety features.
Safe Work Practices
What can companies do to make safer work environments for employees? Many of these practices are simple and adoptable with minimal cost.
It is the responsibility of company leadership to make the safety message clear, and insist that there is no higher priority.
- Do more than verify that workers have read the company handbook. Provide real ownership of a safe work environment. Assure them through action and follow-up that their concerns are taken seriously.
- Be aware of sending contradictory messages like emphasizing safety, then discarding the rules when work increases.
- Make time on the clock to focus on safe practices and behavior.
- Review safety incidents with everyone immediately after they happen.
- Put the right number of people on a task, rather than risk injuring someone if the job were performed alone.
- Provide adequate time to train on new equipment, including observing its use in the work environment.
- Sincerely ask for feedback (even anonymous suggestions and complaints). Review survey results, and encourage employees to share their recommendations.
Regardless of daily pressures, it is up to senior management to make sure employees know nothing is more important than their safety.
It appears that companies could do a better job conveying this message. A survey from the National Safety Council (NSC) reveals the concerns of many U.S. workers.
A poll of 2,000 employees across the nation found 33% believe that their companies put production before safety. Statistics show that many burn incidents are attributed to people who are hurried, under pressure or fatigued.4 While it may be inherent in the type of work they do, employees should never be put into a position that makes them feel that they are in danger because of productivity expectations.
More people come through the door of a restaurant during the lunch hour than they do the other 23 hours of the day. People use the drive-thru expecting they won’t have their foot on the break very long. Controlling this chaos is necessary to success. Perhaps, no worker population feels the pressure to perform under chaotic circumstances more than those in food service.
Proactive, simple and inexpensive changes can have a huge, positive effect on workplace safety. For instance, companies that use non-breakable and closed containers whenever transporting hot liquids can make a significant reduction to their contribution to the 500,000 reported burn injuries that occur each year. Often, the simplest changes can have the greatest impact.
One way companies can approach improving workplace safety practices is to commit to a zero-tolerance policy and believe that it is an achievable goal. Those that consider establishing a company policy that promotes safety principles like these can benefit the most: all injuries are preventable, nothing is worth getting injured over and safe behavior is a condition of employment for everyone.
The key to improving both company ownership and employee commitment to workplace safety is involvement.
- Allow for a budget in time and money that employees have a say in how its spent.
- Provide time to work through issues as a team.
- Give employees time to observe one another and have safety conversations.
- Provide the right safety equipment for the environment – simple fixes like transporting liquids in containers made for the task, using carts instead of requiring hand-carrying and providing caution signs when large-scale activities are underway that might cause safety incidents.
Above all, create a culture where employees are confident they can safely stop work without facing adverse consequences.
Too often, adequate attention and real action occurs after a safety incident: an employee gets hurt, a customer is affected or an accident makes the news. Only then does the spotlight shine on safe practices and preventative measures inside the company. And the repercussions can be staggering.
A few years ago, J. Paul Leigh, a professor of health economics at the Center for Healthcare Policy and Research at University of California, Davis, did an evaluation of the overall cost of work-related injuries and illnesses to companies and taxpayers. The number was stunning: $250 billion per year, and worker’s compensation covers less than 25%.5
Compound those costs with the potential for legal penalties due to negligence claims, not to mention the price a company could pay in customer losses and damage done to its reputation. Add them all up, and an investment in equipment, environment and wages that contribute to ensuring a safer work environment looks like resources well spent.
Employers can reduce accidents in the work environment by making the necessary time and equipment available that facilitate safe behavior, and place just as much priority on it as they do productivity. By emphasizing to employees that taking workplace safety more seriously, acting responsibly and proactively contributing to decisions that concern their safety, they are protecting the well-being of their employees and their company. The expectation that even a small number of accidents are inevitable, can contribute to carelessness. The costs in time, money and morale can be devastating. Even minor accidents that go unaddressed can appear to employees that they take their own health more seriously than their company does – circumstances that benefit no one.
Click here to download white paper.