Between handling drink orders, managing inventory, and providing attentive customer service, workplace safety may not always be top of mind for bar employees or owners.
However, overlooking the possibility of a workplace injury not only puts individual employees at risk, it can also take a toll on the business in terms of higher costs and lower staff morale.
Depending on the severity of an employee’s injury, it can result in decreased productivity, time away from work, and higher workers’ compensation insurance costs. Time spent rearranging schedules or hiring more staff to accommodate an injured or unwell employee can create an unnecessary strain on company finances and resources. Workplace injuries and prolonged absences can also negatively impact employee morale and increase tensions with management.
Bar managers and owners can help prevent these scenarios by prioritizing safety in their business and encouraging their employees to do the same. In a workplace with a strong culture of safety, employees of all levels are held accountable for upholding safety best practices.
Here are steps bar owners and management should take to create a culture of safety in their establishments.
Identify and Address Safety Risks
From working long, late-night shifts to moving cases and kegs, bar staff members are exposed to a variety of risks that could cause injury. Identifying these specific risks and taking action to mitigate them is an important first step.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 2,500 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses occurred in drinking establishments, such as bars, in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available. A significant portion of reported injuries was attributed to overexertion while handling materials or product. By encouraging employees to ask for assistance when needed and providing carts and/or dollies for moving kegs and other heavy or bulky items, these incidents can be reduced.
Another safety risk that managers should address early is exhaustion. Bar employees who repeatedly work long shifts into the early hours of the morning can be susceptible to this, particularly if they are on late shifts multiple days in a row or work a second day job.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep-deprived workers are 70% more likely to be involved in a workplace accident. Managers should be sure to adjust shifts to balance late-night duties across the staff. If an employee appears drowsy on the job to the point where he or she may get hurt, managers should encourage the employee to take a break or go home and get some rest. Studies have suggested that a 10- to 30-minute nap is enough for many adults to sharpen cognitive function without inducing the lingering groggy feelings from sleep inertia.
In a casual, fast-paced, and team-oriented environment like a bar, employee engagement may already be strong. Camaraderie among staff can be an excellent motivator for employee safety as staff already has its team members’ best interests at heart. Management can encourage employees to look out for one another, identify potentially overlooked hazards, and discourage each other from taking unnecessary risks.
Managers can also engage their employees by asking for their input on ways to improve the safety culture. Employees tend to be more committed to the success of a workplace safety program when they have a direct role in its development. Another way managers can encourage engagement is creating quarterly goals for safety and providing benefits, such as a staff lunch or bonus, if the goals are met.
Focus on Improvement
Even in the safest and most prepared workplaces, accidents can still happen. But in the same way that one injury does not undermine all the valuable work that preceded it, an accident-free workplace should not lead to managers becoming complacent.
Managers should remember that creating a safe workplace is a continuous process. From regularly reassessing safety procedures and frequently training employees, to encouraging employees to report safety hazards, managers can always be thinking of ways to improve the safety culture.
Make Sure Owners & Managers Buy In
Above all, a culture of safety is a top-down management initiative. Often, management may be discouraging good safety practices without realizing it. Encouraging employees to work faster or to cut corners in order to save time and resources can signal to staff that the procedures intended to keep them safe are secondary to the company’s bottom line. Employees may be more willing to take safety risks in order to speed up their work if they have seen their manager do the same.
Managers should lead by example and model good safety behavior to their employees, even when they don’t believe their staff is watching. Putting these safety precautions into action also signals to employees that the business’ culture of safety is not just empty rhetoric—it is a strategic imperative that is vital to business operations.
Another way managers and owners can emphasize the company’s commitment to workplace safety is through job descriptions. Management can include workplace safety responsibilities in every job description so that staff feels as obligated to mop up spilled drinks and clean up broken glass as they do to serve cocktails. This not only holds employees accountable for safety in their performance reviews, but it also signals to new recruits from the very beginning that workplace safety is a top priority. Putting this language in the job descriptions of all roles in the company, not just junior staff, reinforces that this is a priority for everyone across all levels.
While creating workplace safety may feel like a large undertaking, it is important to remember that a strong safety culture is not built in a day. A culture of safety is created and reinforced over time and in small ways by both employees and management. By taking an active interest in mitigating common safety risks to bar employees, encouraging employee participation in safety initiatives, and setting a strong tone of constant improvement, managers can create a culture in which every employee is accountable for putting safety first.