You’re on your feet all shift, carrying heavy trays, prepping ingredients or cooking food. No wonder staying healthy in the service industry is such a tough grind.
It doesn’t help that working in a restaurant tends to put employees in some hazardous situations. In fact, a 2018 study from AmTrust Financial Services found that recovering from injuries costs restaurant workers an average of 30 days off the job. That means that work-related injuries represent a real danger to your wallet, not to mention your health.
Here are the top health risks you face as a service worker, as well as some ways to take precautions.
The Most Common Restaurant Health Risks
There’s nothing worse than realizing that the pain you were hoping would go away on its own is here to stay. Here’s what you can do to stay safe on the job to protect your health and address these common restaurant injuries as (or even before) they happen.
Sprains and Strains
When you get a lower back or shoulder injury, you can usually point to the object that caused it. Taking hard-to-reach items off high shelving, lifting heavy boxes or unloading heavy equipment incorrectly is an easy way to pull a muscle or damage a joint.
If you have to do a lot of carrying and moving machinery or other packages, remember to lift with your legs. You may be able to use over-the-counter analgesics, muscle rubs and heating pads to take care of a minor injury from a bad lift, but a serious back injury could keep you out of work for weeks.
Burns and Lacerations
Hot stoves, pans, frying oil and splatters are some of the most common ways restaurant workers end up with burns. Minor burns can be cleaned and bandaged on site, but serious burns require a trip to the emergency department.
Spending all day around sharp knives, slicers and broken glass explains why cuts or lacerations account for a third of all restaurant-related insurance claims, according to AmTrust. As soon as you notice a cut, disinfect the wound. Try to figure out whether the cut needs stitches — if not, then head to the restaurant’s first-aid kit for bandages, gauze and medical tape.
Slips and Falls
The quick pace of restaurant work, combined with on-the-ground hazards like spilled fluids and uneven flooring, put restaurant workers at true risk for slipping or falling. Wear shoes with a low heel and nonslip rubber soles, and even if you’re trying to work quickly, take care to watch where your feet are going.
Repetitive Motion Injuries and Standing All Day
Servers, chefs and food preppers who are on their feet all shift are prone to “hallux rigidus,” a kind of arthritis that affects the joint of the big toe. The more general term is “chef’s foot.” Standing for long periods of time has a big impact on your body, usually in the form of aches and pains. It’s also possible to develop carpal tunnel from chopping onions or tendinitis from hours of stirring. “Barista wrist” can reportedly take up to a year to heal.
While recovery might entail over-the-counter pain relievers, braces and rest, future prevention simply means getting the right footwear and boning up on exercises that can protect your body from these kinds of injuries.
Irregular Sleep, Exhaustion and Stress
Whether you’re a sous chef, server or cafe owner, exhaustion, irregular hours and stress are probably all familiar to you. This extended strain can take a toll on your well-being and mental health.
Tackle your mental health head-on by scheduling a regular telemedicine appointment with a counselor and finding ways to decompress on your off hours. If you don’t currently make time for self-care, try getting a pedicure or taking a yoga class.
Insuring Yourself Against Injury
Knowing the risks and taking precautions is smart, but some injuries are just impossible to prevent. That’s why staying healthy in the service industry is also about the protection you put in place for when the unexpected inevitably happens.
To help offset the costs of getting hurt in the workplace, consider enrolling in a supplemental insurance policy such as an accident or hospital indemnity plan. These policies complement your regular insurance and pay out lump sums for covered injuries and hospitalizations. That’s money that can go toward medical costs, child care, rent or any other expenses while you’re recovering. Before you sign up for a plan, check to see whether the coverage it offers overlaps with any workers’ compensation insurance you might receive.
In an occupation where slicing, dicing and juggling hot plates is the norm, it makes sense to protect yourself both physically and financially. So, while you’re covering tables or setting out fires in the kitchen (hopefully just not real ones), make sure that you have someone covering you.