Rationale for SARA: Safety Analysis Risk Assessment

Employee training should include periodic seminars on safety procedures for crisis situations.

THIS paper considers the different safety risks present in modern foodservice, the impact of these risks on stakeholders of foodservice, and suggests an evaluation protocol called SARA, safety analysis risk assessment. Personal safety is one of the most basic concerns of the human species. In his classic hierarchy of needs theory, Abraham Maslow rated the desire for safety second only to physical needs such as food and shelter. Safety is the state of being free from dangers, hazards, or risks that can cause hurt, injury, or loss. Safety in the workplace entails the freedom of workers on the job from the exposure to conditions that can lead to mishaps, or accidents, that negatively impact health, life, and property.

The nature of the foodservice enterprise tends to make the industry vulnerable to accidents. A rushed pace, the use of sharp utensils, and high-speed machinery in combination with steam, water, grease, and heat-generating equipment are potentially dangerous conditions that pervade the entire foodservice industry.

The well-being of employees who provide food and service is the first safety concern apparent in foodservice. However, the scope of safety in foodservice is much wider and also includes the customers who patronize foodservice and others who may have a reason or an occasion to be present in food venues. People who support foodservice in roles such as vendors, maintenance workers, and service providers are essential to the functioning of the industry and are required to frequent food facilities in the performance of their jobs.

Industry's Evolving Hazards
Traditional concerns for safety in foodservice include hazards encountered in performing foodservice work, such as slips, falls, burns, cuts, and broken bones. In addition to these traditional operational dangers, foodservice is also subject to natural disasters and the emerging dangers of workplace violence and terrorism. Prior to the 1970s, the concept of workplace violence was virtually unheard of, but since then, incidents of workplace violence have more than tripled. Workplace violence initially came to public awareness as violence against employees and customers that occurred during holdups and robberies. This definition of workplace violence changed in 1986 when a postal worker, in a murderous rage, killed 14 co-workers in Edmond, Okla. Violence on the job became the most urgent workplace safety concern by the 1990s, prompting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to organize a special task force to make recommendations to prevent the problem.

In the 21st Century, however, the danger of terrorism has replaced workplace violence as the most significant threat to safety in America. The U.S. government reacted to terrorism by creating the Department of Homeland Security in March 2003 to work toward protecting the security of citizens of the United States from incidents of terrorism.

The primary reason for any foodservice organization to exist is to serve the needs and demands of its customers, and their safety must always be of the highest priority. Customer safety is the responsibility of both managers and employees of foodservice. Patrons come to a foodservice with the expectation of their own personal safety, but when accidents occur, patrons equate these mishaps with operational mismanagement and inefficiency. Examples of hazards that can cause customer injury in a foodservice are ice in parking lots and on steps, cracks in sidewalks, exit doors that do not open, grease or water on dining room floors, and hot liquids dropped or spilled on them. In the United States each year there are 2,000 to 3,000 incidents of choking, and 60 percent of these occur in restaurants. To help provide for customer safety from choking and other emergencies, prudent foodservice managers should always have at least one employee on duty who is trained and certified in first aid, including the Heimlich maneuver and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Natural disasters are a part of life, and wise management dictates that the possibility of these crises should be planned for in foodservice. Well-thought-out crisis management plans for occurrences such as tornadoes, hurricanes, flash floods, and earthquakes could save the lives of customers and employees. Employee training should include periodic seminars on safety procedures for crisis situations.

Nature of the Work
Foodservice enterprises are unique in the business world because they accomplish the entire business cycle of making their own products, marketing those products, and providing services, often under the umbrella of one single holistic organization. By its very nature, foodservice abounds with the potential for safety hazards. Production personnel routinely perform their work using sharp knives, equipment with sharp fast-moving parts, and heated appliances. Potentially dangerous substances such as grease, high-pressure steam, water, electricity, and gas are integral components of food preparation activities.

Work in a foodservice organization follows a precedence continuum that ranges from procurement to production to service, ending with sanitation. Procurement includes the functions of receiving, storage, and issuing of purchased food products. Perishable food and prepared food items must be stored in refrigerators and freezers. Pots, pans, and utensils used in food preparation and service must be cleaned, sanitized, and stored. After food is consumed by patrons in dining areas, dishes must be cleaned, sanitized, and stored. All of the tasks and activities of the foodservice continuum have the potential for safety hazards that can arise from both unsafe conditions and unsafe practices.

The rushed operational environment of modern foodservice is a result of efficiency and productivity demands of the modern market and the labor shortage that is prevalent in the industry. Hurried procedures, carried out in an environment with so many potentially dangerous substances, enhance the potential for accidents. The foodservice industry in the United States has experienced an endemic labor shortage that began when large numbers of veteran foodservice workers began retiring in the 1980s. In the 1990s, employee turnover rates peaked at 123 percent per year in fast food operations and 87 percent in fine dining. Labor shortages and the high rate of turnover have forced many foodservices to turn to temporary agencies as routine providers of employees. The combination of labor shortages and unsafe working conditions in foodservice can aggravate foodservice staffing, reduce the pool of available workers, and lower the morale of the entire workforce. This is also compounded by the incredible diversity of foodservice workers' cultural, ethnic, and language backgrounds. One national restaurant chain indicated its management had to be able to deal with more than 23 different languages alone.

Injuries common to foodservice industry workers include cuts, burns, falls, collisions, back injuries, repetitive motion injuries, and being hit. Surprise factors that contribute to these hazards in foodservice are conditions such as blind corners, cross traffic, uneven or irregular surfaces, slick spots on floors, being hit by swinging doors, slipping knives, out-of-place equipment, sticking or wrong way doors, and unexpectedly hot surfaces.

Unsafe conditions in facilities and unsafe practices by workers are the two major factors that combine to cause most foodservice accidents. The National Safety Council describes an accident as any unexpected suddenly occurring unintentional event that causes injury, loss or property damage. Data maintained by the council rank the food industry about midway among all industry classifications in terms of the severity of accidents. However, in terms of frequency, foodservice has almost twice as many accidents as the average for all other industries.

Injury Prevention
The use of the term accident implies these mishaps are random and unpreventable. Therefore, the term injury control is best used to describe programs designed to prevent workplace injury. However, statistics collected by OSHA suggest accidents can be avoided and prevented when an organized safety training program exists. OSHA, created by the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act, became effective April 28, 1971. Administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, the act mandates that every employer in the United States furnish its employees with a place of employment that is safe and free from any hazards that can cause serious physical harm or death.

Even though accidents are often associated with negligence, there are other factors that contribute to these hazards, such as equipment failure and human error. Many accidents are attributed to human error from causes such as fatigue, carelessness, excessive hurrying, inattention, and poor visibility. OSHA analyzes data on accidents in terms of their frequency of occurrence and severity. The severity rates of accidents are computed by determining the number of working days lost due to those accidents. Multiplying the number of lost-time accidents during any selected period by 1,000,000 and then dividing the result by the total number of hours worked during that period is the process used to calculate the frequency rate of accidents. Since its creation, OSHA has data that show a reduction in workplace fatalities by more than 60 percent and occupational injury and illness rates by 40 percent. These figures gain additional perspective by the consideration that employment in the United States doubled from 56 million workers at 3.5 million sites to 115 million workers at 7.1 million sites in the same period. These data suggest that both the severity and frequency of mishaps can be reduced through employee training and awareness.

In 2002, OSHA reported data that showed a total of 4.7 million injuries and illnesses at firms operating in the private sector economy of the United States. This translates to a frequency rate of approximately 5.3 injury and illness cases for every 100 workers. The data also indicated there were 5,524 on-the-job worker deaths in 2002. The major causes of employee death during the performance of work were accidents involving motor vehicles, machines, falls, electrocutions, and falling objects.

Beyond job-related hazards, however, about one-tenth of the fatalities of employees on the job were caused by homicide. There were 609 on-the-job worker deaths from homicides in 2002. Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the years from 1992-98 showed there were 6,714 victims of on-the-job homicides during that seven-year period. Fatalities that occurred during the commission of robberies and attempted robberies accounted for roughly three-fourths of workplace homicides. Most robberies and attempted robberies were clustered in retail businesses, such as foodservice establishments, that handle money. Workplace homicides perpetrated by co-workers, former co-workers, lovers, customers, and acquaintances made up the remaining 25 percent of on-the-job murders.

OSHA statistics for foodservice employees for 2002 showed an average of 4.6 cases of occupational injury and illness for every 100 workers; 16,548 incidents of slips and falls were the most frequent accidents reported for foodservice workers in 2002. There were 126 on-the-job fatalities among commercial foodservice workers in 2002, and of these, 86 were homicides.

Cuts and punctures
BLS 1996 data reported that food stores and eating and drinking establishments experienced more than 21,000 cut and puncture injuries resulting in lost workdays. Good work procedures can prevent many of these injuries. To prevent cuts, employees should put knives away when not in use. When cleaning a knife, the cutting edge should be wiped away from the person's body. When using a food slicer or grinder, a food tamper should be used to press food into hoppers. Chipped and broken glass should always be removed from foodservice areas immediately. Employees should be observant when unpacking boxes, creates, cartons, and barrels so they may detect nails and sharp fasteners.

Burn hazards
BLS reported in 1996 that nearly 8,000 heat burn injuries resulted in lost workdays. Burns and scalds can occur when hot materials and equipment are present in the workplace. Good work practices can help to avoid heat burn injuries. Workers should exercise caution when lifting heavy containers of hot food and ask for help for weights beyond their strength. Workers should watch ahead and move carefully when transporting hot foods. Basic kitchen safety training should include turning the handles of pots so they do not protrude over range edges and awareness of hidden hazards, such as the danger of lifting the lid of a hot steam kettle.

In 1999, BLS data categorized hand injuries into 20,964 cuts and punctures from knives, 6,405 heat burns and scalds, and 6,685 fingertip amputations. According to OSHA's 2001 fact sheet, the financial cost of hand injuries alone averages more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses, and worker's compensation costs.

Slips and falls
Slips and falls occur in foodservice often because of food and drink spilled on the floor. To avoid slips and falls, it is imperative that all solids and liquids be removed from floors immediately when they are dropped. Aisles and stairs in dining rooms and kitchens always should be kept uncluttered. Carpeting should be inspected regularly and maintained so it is not torn or loose. Employees should use care when moving around blind spots such as corners or down stairs.

Injuries can occur from improper lifting and hauling of food items. Many injuries occur when putting down heavy items. Employee training in proper lifting techniques can help avoid injuries, such as the knowledge that leg muscles are the strongest, and to use them as much as possible.

Fire is an ever-present threat in foodservice. A 1992 report by the Educational Foundation of the National Restaurant Association stated that more fires start in foodservice than any other kind of business operation. Hot oil in fryers can burst into flames, grease in ventilation systems that are not cleaned regularly can ignite, and grease on walls and equipment can burn. The National Fire Protection Association distinguishes between three types of fires that require three different types of extinguishers. Class A fires are ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, and cloth. Class B fires are burning liquids such as grease, solvents, or gasoline. Class C fires are electrical and may be switches, motors, or electrical wiring. Employee training on how to react properly to fires is critical to the safety of everyone in the food facility.

At a minimum, foodservices should have properly operating fire extinguishers plus heat and smoke detection systems to help avoid a fire disaster. State code requires that all new and renovated foodservice production facilities be equipped with fire protection and suppression systems, either in liquid or dry chemical systems. Most state codes also require new and renovated dining facilities to be equipped with overhead sprinkler systems. Foodservice establishments are required to keep these systems serviced, inspected, and certified on a periodic basis.

The first step in fire safety is for employees to use proper procedures in operating equipment. Employee training should include directions and practice in the use of fire extinguishers, fire blankets, and other first aid equipment. Foodservice regulations should have rules designating approved smoking areas for workers, prohibition of smoking in warehouse areas, and specification of warehouse storage area contents and arrangement so as to minimize the potential for explosions. The regulations should require maintaining unobstructed passageways in aisles in working areas to facilitate emergency exits.

Workplace violence
Workplace violence is any act against an employee that creates a hostile work environment. Some of the ways workplace violence is manifested include the exertion of physical force to injure or abuse, instances of violent treatment, physical infringement, or profanity that negatively affects workers either physically or psychologically. About half of the workplace violence in America today occurs against retail employees in jobs such as foodservice. Retail employees are vulnerable to attack because they are exposed to the danger of robbery. Retail employees are exposed to risk because of their frequent contact with the public, the exchange of money with customers, work often performed alone or in small numbers, and working often late night or early morning hours. The National Crime Victimization Survey estimates workplace violence affects 2 million people per year through 1.5 million simple assaults, 396,000 aggravated assaults, 51,000 rapes and sexual assaults, and 84,000 robberies.

Data from surveys reported in 1994 by Northwestern Life Insurance Company found that one out of four full-time workers had been harassed, threatened, or attacked while on the job. Data from a survey by the American Management Association in 1994 showed that 50 percent of the companies they surveyed had reported experiencing threats of workplace violence in the prior four years.

The most obvious place to begin protecting workers from violence on the job is to make facilities as secure as possible and to train crewmembers to protect themselves and others from violence from outsiders. OSHA made recommendations in 1998 and 2000 for facilities modifications that could reduce danger in retail establishments. These facilities modifications include providing adequate lighting, installing mirrors, keeping signs and shelves low, installing drop safes and personal alarms, and installing bullet-resistant enclosures. OSHA recommended operational procedures to reduce danger, such as locking doors when not in use and increasing staffing during high-risk periods such as the beginning and end of the day. It is imperative that crewmembers receive periodic safety seminars on how to protect their lives and the lives of others and to help deter the chance of robberies.

Protection of workers from violence at the hands of angry co-workers or others begins as a responsibility of top management. Top management can demonstrate its commitment to employee safety by implementing a program of violence prevention that includes actions such as threat assessment, prevention efforts, employee training and education, and incident reporting. Management must be aware of the potential for violence in order to take action to prevent or eliminate it. Employee education through seminars and workshops helps employees realize that bringing potentially dangerous behavior to management's attention is in the best interest of everyone. Employee wellness referral programs allow employees to address problems in their lives and can be a resource to salvage employees' careers.

Spousal assault or stalking can be rooted in the home in domestic relations. When employees are being stalked, they can react by changing their phone numbers or, as a last resort, by moving to a new address. However, most employees cannot abruptly change jobs in order to avoid a stalker. The workplace is usually one place a stalker has a good chance to find his or her victim.

The presence of concealed weapons in the workplace is a very real danger that should be a concern for all employees. Carrying concealed weapons has become more commonplace and is legal in more than 40 states. The mere presence of a handgun tends to increase the potential for workplace violence. Company policies should strictly prohibit guns from the property for the safety of employees.

Management can help decrease the hazard of workplace violence by taking precautions when it hires and fires employees. Thorough screening of potential employees during the hiring process through background investigations can help to expose fraudulent information on applications and eliminate risky hires. Informing potential applicants that random drug and alcohol testing is required of workers may cause some people to forgo the job application.

In the modern economy, employee stress has escalated and job security has eroded as more is demanded from each worker. Instances of corporate downsizing, job re-engineering, and outsourcing have become commonplace. To reduce incidents of violence during termination, advanced planning should be done so the action is timed to take place at the beginning or end of a shift. After termination, the employee should not be allowed to return to his workstation. Employment termination should be handled in such a way that the employee's dignity is always preserved. Employment counseling and worker outplacement services can help to ease the transition of terminated employees; if a violent reaction is anticipated, security officers should be alerted and present.

Both the federal government and the foodservice industry are working to ensure the security of foodservice operations by responding to the threat of terrorism in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been working with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies on the homeland security initiative.

The Federal Anti-Tampering Act (18 USC 1365) makes it a federal crime to tamper with or taint, or to attempt, threaten, or conspire to tamper with or taint, a consumer product. Conviction can lead to penalties up to $100,000 in fines and life imprisonment. FDA's guidance for foodservice establishments in establishing food security can be accessed at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fsterr.html. The FDA Food Security Guidance document addresses five concerns: 1) management responsibilities, 2) staff responsibilities, 3) customer access and surveillance, 4) facility security, and 5) operational procedures. The Educational Foundation of the National Restaurant Association has produced a very helpful Food Security Guide (available at www.nraef.org under the food security icon). The NRA publication considers: 1) the possibility of intentional contamination of food, 2) illnesses or death from intentional contamination, 3) the business and financial impact of terrorism, 4) the different types of contamination agents possible for bioterrorism, and 5) strategies for prevention.

The Safety Analysis Risk Assessment
The rationale for developing a safety analysis risk assessment is anchored in both moral and human obligations. Not only is safety in foodservice the right thing to do, but it is also mandated by legal, financial, and staffing concerns. Accidents are expensive and have financial consequences--such as increased insurance premiums, lost productivity, wasted time, overtime expenses, worker's compensation claims, lawsuits, decreased morale, and human suffering. Legal costs involved in compensating victims of accidents and compensating injured employees are major obstacles for any foodservice to overcome. The financial cost of individual incidents also includes the costs of fines levied by OSHA on offending business firms. Companies lose the productivity of an injured individual and incur indirect personnel and equipment costs. Indirect costs include the expenses of training new workers, waste produced by inexperienced substitute workers, and administrative costs incurred in investigating and instituting measures to prevent the future repetition of accidents. Beyond financial obstacles are factors such as loss of reputation and the impact on future marketing and sales.

The stakes are high in preventing unsafe working conditions in foodservice. Because of the high liabilities involved, foodservice organizations are well advised to adopt a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach that waits for mishaps to occur before taking action. Foodservice management can take a proactive approach by anticipating hazards and attempting to prevent accidents before they happen.

Safety is the responsibility of both management and employees. One of the goals of a safety program should be to motivate employees to contribute to the program by becoming "safety police." A safety analysis and risk assessment program can be successful if all levels of management and employees realize and understand its benefits. It is management's responsibility to determine the reasons for accidents, remove the hazards, and then train the employees to prevent recurrence of the same accident. However, it is the employees who must carry out the program.

Safety committees
The team concept of committees is often used in the modern workplace environment of Total Quality Management. A safety committee could be used to enhance safety awareness and enforcement. The objectives of a safety committee should be to observe and report unsafe conditions and practices. Work teams that have regular safety meetings to promote safety awareness, review incidents, and determine prevention strategies can boost morale and demonstrate the commitment of top management to workplace safety.

Recognition programs
Another tool that can enhance employee awareness and enforcement is an employee awareness and reward program. Contests with some type of meaningful recognition or reward can motivate employees to participate in a safety program. Commending employees for exhibiting good safety awareness is a reinforcement that makes employees feel valuable and will motivate others.

Training and maintenance
Foodservice managers are ultimately responsible to see to it that customers and workers are safe from injury or harm. Management responsibilities to facilitate workplace safety encompass concerns such as facilities, education, and enforcement. One of management's first responsibilities in providing a safe workplace is to incorporate built-in safety features in buildings and equipment. Safe facilities have slip-resistant floors, adequate lighting, good ventilation systems, good traffic flow designs, and smoke detection and fire suppression systems. Safe foodservice equipment has features such as encased motors, safety valves on pressure steamers, easily manipulated spigots on urns, and guards on slicing and chopping machines.

Management must insist on a good preventative maintenance program to keep equipment and facilities in good working order. Every organization is faced with prioritizing expenditures and the timing of maintenance and repair. Any organization can be tempted to put off expensive or time-consuming maintenance procedures. Cash-starved institutions such as schools, colleges and universities, and health care institutions, in particular, are vulnerable to temptations to allow a large log of deferred maintenance needs to accumulate. Failing to keep equipment and facilities up to code is a penny-wise, pound-foolish mistake that may eventually manifest in the form of accidents, injuries, tragedies, or disasters.

Management's responsibility for education begins with the establishment of strict policies regarding safety that are discussed with all employees, beginning at the new employee orientation period and continuing throughout employment. Well-designed crisis management contingencies for catastrophic events should be written and shared with employees on a regular basis. Safety should be considered a component of every job and should be taught right along with skills and procedures. Written procedures for job tasks to be performed by each employee should include the safe way of performing each task. Ongoing seminars and in-service training programs can help keep employees aware and focused on safety by regularly presenting facts about safe and unsafe practices.

There is an old Dutch proverb that says perseverance brings success. Employers must exercise constant perseverance in the enforcement of standards and prescribed procedures if they are to lead employees in preventing accidents. Periodic, unannounced inspections of foodservice facilities by a supervisor continue to be very effective. Management cannot afford to depend upon employees' previous knowledge and experience when it comes to safety practices. The risks of dangerous and increasingly sophisticated technical foodservice equipment, coupled with high employee turnover, make safety awareness imperative. A safety protocol based on a formal, written safety analysis and risk assessment can help to ensure the safety of employees and patrons.

The Safety Analysis Risk Assessment (SARA) assesses the safety of facility conditions, workplace procedures, and security provisions, along with all of the activities conducted in the foodservice precedence continuum. SARA addresses the responsibilities of management and employees to ensure the safety of customers, fellow workers, and others from unsafe conditions, unsafe practices, workplace violence, and terrorism. SARA assesses safety on foodservice premises, including parking areas and facilities. The use of SARA is designed around the traditional problem-solving model. To perform a safety assessment, a foodservice would:

1. Utilize SARA checklists to perform a safety analysis by inspecting facilities, equipment, and procedures.
2. Analyze SARA inspection data and past work injury reports to discern existing safety hazards, considering customer safety, employee safety, and the possibility of workplace violence and terrorism.
3. Develop a safety plan that eliminates or minimizes found safety hazards.
4. Require the compliance of all personnel to the safety plan.
5. Make contingency plans that focus the organization's response to accidents, injuries, workplace violence, terrorism, and emergencies.
6. Routinely involve employees in workplace safety through training, education, committees, work teams, and employee incentive programs.
7. Evaluate the performance and effectiveness of the safety plan on a regular basis and modify it as necessary.

This article appeared in the September 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the September 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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