WHS processes for the hospitality industry

All businesses across all industries are obligated to comply with all of the same Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) legislation. However, it’s not always easy to find your way through. We have created this post to assist you with understanding WHS regulatory requirements within the hospitality industry.

Australia is home to many vibrant and bustling cities that attract tourists from all over the world. It is a multibillion AUD per year enterprise employing more than 250,000 people and generates over 55 billion AUD in total economic activity, placing it in the top three largest industries in Australia. But despite these facts, many people within this industry are not as well informed about WHS requirements.

This article addresses these challenges by providing a basic template for WHS processes for Australia’s hospitality sector. 

Common safety hazards in the hospitality industry

Workplace health and safety issues in the hospitality industry can include everything from employee health and safety to that of their customers. These fast facts introduce you to the dangers that operators of hospitality businesses must be aware of in order to keep their workers and guests safe, healthy and happy.

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Let’s take a look at some of the most common accidents in the food industry (in no particular order):

Slips, trips and falls

The hospitality industry has some of the highest rates of slips, trips and falls in Australian workplaces which can often result in injuries. These types of accidents have many causes and chefs and waiters are the most affected. Wet floors, food spillage, broken floor tiles are major causes made worse by poor housekeeping, poor lighting, and overcrowded walkways.

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To help reduce this type of accident, good housekeeping practices should be implemented such as pre-clearing tables, removing dirty dishes, keeping walkways and grates clear, etc. Using mats and placing warning signs will also help.

Hazards associated with Manual handling 

Manual handling is another common reason for work injuries especially musculoskeletal injury in the hospitality space. Injuries occur as a result of improper manual handling and lifting techniques, incorrect posture/positioning, overloading, fatigue and rushed working – common features in this sector where workers would be required to handle heavy items such as deliveries, luggage, kitchen utensils, tables etc. at some point.

Hazardous materials and chemicals

Chemical Hazards are a common hazard that employees working in the hotel, restaurant and related industries are frequently exposed to. Toxic cleaning agents, cooking gas, carbon dioxide gas are examples of materials that can be harmful.

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Temperature extremes

Work environments like kitchens are a beehive of activity involving fire, hot liquids, equipment, and objects that could cause burns and heat stress/stroke to workers. Also frostbite has been reported in some cases where workers failed to take proper precaution when retrieving items from the cold storage/freezer. In any case very high or low temperature is a safety hazard risk that should be considered in any WHS process involving facilities in the hospitality industry.

Cuts and puncture wounds

Injuries due to accidents involving sharp working tools like knives are common happenings in many kitchens servicing hotels, restaurants cafés etc. This is especially true where there is enormous work pressure, faulty/poorly maintained tools and poor staff training.

Ensuring Safety with WHS processes

Now that we’ve identified common hazards in hospitality, the next step is to achieve an acceptable level of risk in the work environment in order to keep workers and customers safe. The following WHS processes should be considered:

Identify potential hazards in the workplace 

Wet floors, sharp objects, tight spaces, hot items, and exposed electrical sockets and so many more are all potential hazards in the hospitality workplace. The first step in avoiding these hazards is to recognize them. Hazards can also arise from factors that aren’t immediately obvious such as noisy equipment, unusual odours, or long working periods. As part of the WHS process, systems for hazard identification including checklists should be developed, schedules for workplace inspection established, roles and responsibilities assigned. Once hazards are identified, the system should describe the next line of action and how it would be carried out.

Conduct Job Safety Analysis 

Job safety analysis (JSA) helps identify potential hazards associated with completing a job. A job is made up of various tasks that are completed one after the other in a step by step manner – these tasks are analysed to identify hazards associated with them. When you conduct JSA, it can help you determine whether or not workers should be carrying out certain tasks on their current job and/or employing new methods to carry out those tasks. The purpose of having JSA is to provide you with the tools necessary to perform your job safely. It takes into consideration both the risk of employing certain tools and processes as well as the potential for adverse effects associated with certain tools or practices. This is particularly important to determine and control hazards inherent in hospitality jobs like cooking, manual handling, working in hot spaces, housekeeping etc.

Make risk assessments part of the procedure

It’s important to develop a system for evaluating risk. Risk can refer to physical conditions, such as hazardous materials or fires, or financial ones, such as credit card fraud or identity theft. The process needs to be developed to include a Risk Matrix. A Risk Matrix is used to evaluate risks based on their likelihood to occur and severance if they occur. Risks are then assigned values and prioritized depending on how urgent the need for control is.

Execute Risk Control activities

Risk control is an essential part of the process of staying safe when working in the hospitality industry and managing the safety of a workplace. Implementing risk control activities into a business’s WHS system reduces risk factors. This is to ensure that accidents do not happen or if they do, that they do not cause harm or a serious injury. Implementing risk control activities allows supervisors to focus on creating a safe and healthy environment for employees. When it comes to controlling risk, the hierarchy of risk control should be used. Based on the hierarchy of risk control, identified hazards can be prevented, reduced, transferred, and mitigated through: Eliminating the hazard, substituting the hazard, engineering controls, administrative controls, use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Develop and implement a workplace safety training program

As part of a hospitality business’ workplace health and safety processes, there is the need to develop and implement a workplace safety training program that meets the requirements of WHS laws. The program needs to address the specific hazards that are present in their property, particular to their employees’ jobs and should include housekeeping, first aid, evacuation procedures, fire safety etc. Workplace safety training should be mandatory for all new employees and training should consist of interactive training that includes hands on exercises, demonstrations, and presentation. 

Incident Management

Even the best run hospitality establishments occasionally have a safety incident. Incident Management provides a focussed, step-by-step approach to enable a rapid, effective and co-ordinated response to any emergency situation. As part of a WHS process it describes how to alert, notify, record, report and investigate workplace health and safety related incidents at Hotels, restaurants, cafes, resorts, etc. so that the ‘chain of responsibility’ can be established, business continuity ensured, and a repeat occurrence avoided. It is, above all else, an incident prevention and control process driven ultimately by the aim of preventing harm to workers, others and indeed the environment by implementing lessons discovered from past incidents.

Audits and evaluations

The purpose of a health and safety audit and evaluation is to provide the opportunity for owners, managers, staff and staff training providers to review and discuss what they’ve been doing so far, as well as identify any risks or areas for improvement. It’s all too easy to miss items that are vital to the health and safety of your business or your guests. So it’s really important to have a health and safety audit as part of your regular systems of work. It should be carried out by an independent person who can gain access to all the key areas of the workplace, including back of house premises, reception area, retail areas and site offices. This evaluation should give you a good idea about where you’re at in terms of WHS compliance.

Establish a WHS Management System

The hospitality industry is constantly evolving and changing. With the technological advancements of recent years, business owners are more exposed to risks and litigation than ever. One of the most important aspects in reducing some of these risks is through the implementation of a sound WHS Management System.

WHS management systems are an essential part of any hospitality organisation’s WHS process. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is the well-known mantra in the management world, and WHS management is no different.

A WHS management system ensures WHS compliance and the safety of your premises by helping businesses to complete hitherto boring, complex, and daunting tasks such as tracking employee compliance on safety issues, maintaining up-to-date records, provision of training modules, proper documentation, incident reporting, hazard/risk analysis and so on. It also helps your staff be aware of what their responsibilities are. It also lets the contractors know about what roles they need to perform in order to keep your workplace safe for all employees.

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