Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Restaurant Workers and Workers’ Compensation Injuries

The service industry, including fine dining, casual and fast food restaurants, employs thousands of people in Minnesota. Almost everyone I know has worked in a restaurant at one point in time or another. I personally worked in restaurants off and on when I was in high school and college. Restaurants, particularly in the kitchen, can be very dangerous. During my various stints in the restaurant industry before becoming a lawyer, I sustained a few minor injuries here and there, although none of them were serious enough to require medical attention. I burned myself more times than I can count, including a fairly bad grease burn on my hand, I slipped and fell on wet or greasy floors, and I cut myself chopping vegetables on numerous occasions.

Chefs, cooks, dishwashers, waiters, bussers, servers, and other restaurant employees encounter many types of dangers in a busy restaurant. In a kitchen, cooks, dishwashers, and other employees are particularly at risk for sustaining burn injuries from hot food, pans, or water from steam tables, or grease burns from pans or fryers. In a busy restaurant, wet or greasy floors are particularly hazardous. Employees in a hurry can easily slip and fall on a wet or greasy floor. The danger of falling in a busy restaurant kitchen is magnified by the risk that a falling employee may strike kitchen equipment on their way down, or they may be carrying tools or equipment that may further cause injury during the fall. Knives and other cutting equipment in a kitchen also pose dangers to kitchen employees. Cooks routinely sustain cuts to the fingers and hands when cutting food. Knives that are carelessly placed on counters also pose a hazard if they are accidentally knocked down. Employees in a busy, crowded kitchen also risk accidentally being cut by a co-worker who is carelessly handling a knife. Many kitchens also use mechanical slicers, which can cause grievous injury, including cuts, amputations, or worse. Slicers should be used with extreme care. Industrial mixers can also cause severe injury, particularly crush injuries to the hands. Never put your hand into a mixer while it is moving. Ovens, grills, burners, and flattop grills pose obvious fire and burn hazards. Fryers pose dangers of fires and grease burns. Trash compactors and box balers can also cause severe or even catastrophic injuries. Kitchen employees also regularly use extremely caustic chemicals to clean, and respiratory exposure, skin contact, or eye contact with these chemicals can cause severe injury. A busy kitchen can also be a very stressful place. Cooks and other kitchen employees may even run the risk of being struck by objects thrown by frustrated co-workers.

Aside from the more obvious dangers in a kitchen, most restaurant employees are required to be on their feet for extended periods of time. This can lead to leg strains and sprains, knee problems, and back problems. Many kitchen employees are also required to frequently lift very heavy objects, particularly when stocking food and supplies. Bags of potatoes, large cuts of meat, boxes of frozen French fries, and kegs of soda or beer are very heavy, and carrying them up and down stairs can result in low back sprains and strains or other lifting injuries. Restaurant employees that are required to perform repetitive tasks, such as cutting vegetables, slicing meat, or preparing seafood, also run the risk of developing repetitive motion injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Employees retrieving stock from storage may also sustain injuries from falling objects when attempting to reach heavy items from high places.

If you’ve worked in a restaurant, more than likely, you’ve sustained an injury at some point in time, whether it is a minor burn or cut, or a more serious injury. These types of injuries are covered by Minnesota workers’ compensation. If you’ve sustained an injury that requires medical attention, you should immediately report it to your employer. If your injury is serious and requires medical attention, or if you miss time from work due to your injury, you should consider speaking with a workers’ compensation lawyer. Meuser & Associates has successfully represented many restaurant workers in claims for workers’ compensation benefits. To schedule a free consultation to learn about your rights, call us at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.

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