In the fast-paced hustle and bustle that characterizes many hospitality industry workplaces, the management of safety issues is an ever-present challenge. Whether the setting is a café during the morning rush or a restaurant kitchen as the dinner shift kicks into high gear, the risk of an accident or injury is always a very real concern.
To their credit, most hospitality industry managers are very aware of safety issues, and over the last several decades, major strides have been made toward decreasing the risk of workplace accidents in the industry. Many risky practices that were once common in restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality industry organizations have been phased out due to government regulations and voluntary reforms, and today, extensive training in safe workplace procedures is a common feature of the typical hospitality industry workplace.
However, while the progress made toward establishing safe work practices in the hospitality industry has been significant, work safety experts point out that the industry can still often be found near the top of the annual lists of the most employee injuries and accidents per capita. In other words, there is still much room for improvement when it comes to workplace safety in the hospitality industry.
One criticism that has been leveled at the current status quo of workplace safety in the industry contends that many past reform efforts have been directed at improving one specific area of practice, rather than seeking to make broad-based changes. Instead, experts suggest that this narrowly-focused approach should be replaced by a more strategic, comprehensive approach to workplace safety.
According to workplace safety researcher Dr. William Selkirk, more than 90% of all workplace injuries are rooted in employees’ attitude, behavior, and culture, rather than dangerous working conditions or unsafe circumstances. A growing chorus of workplace safety experts has endorsed the notion of building safety into the very foundation of the organizational culture itself.
In this way, an ongoing emphasis on avoiding risky practices and behaviors will likely emerge as a natural outgrowth of the organizational dynamics. Here are some steps you can take to help cultivate a culture of safety in your workplace:
Build safety-oriented questions and screening into your standard interview and hiring procedures. Focus on choosing candidates who demonstrate genuine safety awareness, while passing over any potential hires who display a careless or cavalier attitude towards safe work procedures. This will help you create a safety-oriented culture by “stacking the deck” with employees who already think in these terms.
Whether your new employee is a rookie or a veteran with decades of experience, they should be subjected to the same thorough course of safety training. It’s not enough to assume that they already know how to work safely -- invest the time necessary to make sure they know what safety means and how it is achieved in your organization.
From the bussing staff to the CEO, make sure that everyone keeps an eye out for potential safety hazards. Use slideshows and role-playing scenarios to teach your employees what “wrong” looks like, and how best to respond if they suspect a problem.
It goes without saying that keeping your equipment in tip-top shape is a major part of maintaining a safe workplace, but your employees need “maintenance,” too. Make sure your staff receives ongoing training in the latest safety practices and emerging trouble-shooting techniques. A culture of safety also relies on your team’s “fresh eyes,” so do what you can to ensure that they have plenty of rest and downtime between shifts.
One of the most effective methods you can use to instill safety as part of the organizational culture is to develop a system of incentives. Some businesses use a cash bonus system to reward employees who report potential hazards. Others arrange competitions between departments to see who can go the longest without an injury or accident, bestowing cash, prizes, vacation days, or other desirable rewards upon the quarterly or annual winners.
As with any comprehensive effort to instill culture change within an organization, it will probably take some time before your efforts begin to pay off in visible results. Experts estimate that it may be anywhere from one to five years before a safety-oriented culture truly takes root. But if you’ve invested the time and effort to create policies, procedures, programs, and organizational structures that promote safety-oriented thinking, your organization’s culture is destined to reflect these changes.