Workplace accidents that trigger workers’ compensation claims carry a number of hidden costs. Aside from the physical and mental impact on the injured employee, accidents can potentially raise insurance premiums, translate into lower productivity and require hiring and training of replacement staff.

Raul Chacon, director of loss control at Employers, a specialty provider of workers’ comp insurance, says the best strategy is a proactive approach to safety. Owners and managers should consider these steps to rein in workers’ comp claims and the cost of insurance:

1. Make sure the top managers are committed. “As simple as that may seem, they need to clearly define what the company’s safety goals are and communicate that to employees so they understand,” Chacon says.

2. Conduct a safety review. Many business owners become complacent and so familiar with their surroundings that they fail to see obvious hazards. That’s a good reason to get an insurer to help identify potential issues and remedies. Some accidents waiting to happen are glaring—the vat of hot oil, the slippery floor—while others are less obvious. Equipment cords may be frayed, exposing staffers. Food dropped on the floor may be left there, creating a slipping hazard. Chacon says positioning a third party observer in the kitchen during meal times is a good way to identify trouble spots and behaviors.

3. Explain the workplace risks to employees and train them to follow safer procedures. And be sure to engage them in the process by soliciting their input. “A lot of times employees have good ideas for reducing injuries,” Chacon says.

4. Install gear that will reduce the potential for accidents. Wet floors make restaurant kitchens a minefield for slips and falls, but special shoes and mats can lower that risk. Burns are also an occupational hazard. “We’ve seen an uptick in burns in the last couple of years, specifically when removing oil from fryers,” Chacon says. “It’s surprising how many owners don’t have a procedure for that. A lot of archaic methods are still in use. Burns can really be reduced with some precautionary measures.” A number of companies make devices to help manage cooking oil, and training employees to handle only cooled oil is another alternative  to avoid this kind of horrific scenario:



5. Verify that outside contractors are insured. “Restaurants tend to hire a lot of independent contractors to do work, whether it’s cleaning vents or housekeeping,” Chacon observes. “Making sure these contracts have up-to-date certificates of insurance is key.” Otherwise, he says, the restaurant could be liable for any losses.

Typically, workers’ comp insurance premiums reflect a restaurant’s three-year history of claims: Fewer claims translate into a better score and lower premiums. “This is an opportunity for restaurant owners to be able to control their cost a little more than almost any type of insurance,” Chacon says. But it doesn’t just happen.

“There’s always a certain level of luck involved in workers’ comp, but we can’t count on luck to prevent injuries,” Chacon says.