Check Yourself

Safety Audits for Managers

By Dr. Steven Austin Stovall

Sasha is the manager of a new nightclub in Dallas. The venue is the hottest thing in town, and investors have ensured that the club has the latest in lighting technology. Few expenses were spared in installing high-end décor in the lounge areas and the dance floor. However, last night one of the bartenders tripped over a blender cord behind the bar. He broke his wrist and suffered major lacerations from broken glass associated with his fall.
Now Sasha is dealing with a workers’ compensation case that is going to exceed $15,000 and she is missing her star bartender for several weeks. 

This incident could have been avoided. Certainly, the cord to the blender was placed in such a way that it became a trip hazard. Could it have been moved to a different location behind the bar? Sure. Could the cord have been covered with a mat or tape? Of course. But this may not be a single problem — it could be a symptom of a much larger problem. 

Owners and managers are often focused on sales and expenses — and rightly so — but there are other areas of the business that need attention too. One such facet of the operation is ensuring a safe working environment. It’s an easy but often overlooked duty of the manager. A regular safety audit will not only help avoid accidents for employees and patrons, but also potentially save thousands in workers’ compensation costs, lost time and even attorney fees if an individual takes legal action against your business.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), a body of the Department of Labor, seeks to provide a safe working environment for employees in all types of business — not just construction or manufacturing. Although OSHA had a reputation for being heavy-handed with fines, today it is more interested in working with businesses in all safety endeavors. 

In addition, OSHA requires that businesses meet certain basic safety requirements. Here are some suggestions for establishing a safety audit program for your facility that will go a long way in ensuring OSHA compliance. 

Common Areas
From a safety standpoint, the first areas one thinks of are those where patrons frequent — the so-called “common areas.” Obviously, making sure the floor is clean is important, but try to step back and view your facility as an outsider would. Do you see any potential trip hazards anywhere? If so, try to remove them, and if they are not removable, cover them with heavy-duty tape or a mat. Speaking of mats, do you have “no-slip” mats at the entrance and exit of your facility? 

In the event you have carpeting, be sure to check it regularly (at least once per week) to make sure it is free from tears, snags, etc. As you know, excessive traffic areas are tough on any type of carpet. That’s even more reason to check this on a regular basis.

The same is true of furniture. If you’re not regularly inspecting chairs and tables, it is easy for wear and tear to go unnoticed. Be aware that it takes more than just a quick glance to make sure table legs are secure and that chairs remain sturdy; these items must be tested and moved to know for sure if any screws are loose or if pieces have given way due to constant use. 

With restroom facilities, again, your focus is typically on cleanliness, but it’s also important to verify that all components are in good working order once a month. For example, toilet seats and lids can become very loose over time. In addition, check stall doors for loose screws or hinges.

Finally, continuously try to view your establishment not from the viewpoint of an owner or manager, but as an outsider. This is not the easiest thing to do, because you’re so close to it. Choose a star employee to assist you with a walk-through during non-peak times to assess the safety of the common areas. You might even consider assigning the role to this employee on a regular basis — especially if her or she is interested in building a resume for management opportunities down the road. 

Employee Areas
If there is one area that managers and owners tend to be somewhat lackadaisical about, it’s those areas where customers are not permitted. Again, that’s because you tend to focus on customer service and the safety and well being of your patrons. Employee-only areas are just as important. 

Begin with behind the bar and the back of the house. These areas have a tendency to become congested, and employees simply “get used to” the way things are — even though safety concerns are present. Train your staff to take responsibility for these key areas of the facility. As the owner or manager, you are ultimately responsible for the safety of these areas, but employees can take ownership. If it makes more sense to move blenders or mixers to one side of the bar to better serve customers, then do so, but only if all trip hazards and safety issues are ameliorated first. 

Make certain the employee break areas are free from hazards as well. Again, a good approach is to assign different employees the responsibility of monitoring key areas of the facility. Each week they should conduct a thorough inspection of their assigned area and either correct problems right away or notify you about their existence if it requires an outlay of funds or time to handle. 

Preventive Maintenance
Many safety measures involve minimal effort and very little time. However, a solid preventive maintenance program is also a fundamental element of any safety plan, and does require an investment of time. 

For example, twice a year, the sprinkler system should be thoroughly inspected and tested by a professional. It is one of those components of your facility you probably don’t think much about, but when you do need it, you absolutely need it to work properly. The same is true with your smoke and fire detection system. These should be tested monthly. Fire extinguishers must be inspected and certified annually. 

Two areas often overlooked are electrical switches and receptacles. If you have any receptacles in common areas, make sure you have covers for them when they are not in use. This prevents tampering from customers. Also, ask your staff at monthly meetings if anyone is aware of any switches that either provide a minor shock or there is a delay in turning on/off lights. This might be a symptom of a systemic electrical problem. 

Finally, most nightclubs and bars fail to meet one particular OSHA requirement — that is, they don’t have on premises Material Safety Data Sheets (or just MSDS for short).  For every potentially hazardous chemical (cleaning fluids, abrasives, etc.) you must possess an MSDS for that chemical.  Fortunately, manufacturers of chemicals supply these at no cost. 

OSHA requires that businesses maintain current MSDS for every toxic or potentially hazardous chemical they have in the facility and make them readily available to employees or first responders in the case of an emergency. The MSDS includes any physical information about the chemical, how it should be stored and handled, as well as how it should be properly disposed of. Simply placing the MSDS in a three-ring binder in the employee break room will suffice for OSHA compliance. 

Parking Area
The parking area is the first thing your customers see and the last thing they experience when they leave. The parking lot should be well striped and free of hazards and obstacles that would block drivers’ views. In winter, pay attention to this facet of the business to prevent accidents involving cars and/or pedestrians. At night, it should be properly lit.

If you lease your facility, make certain the landlord does a sufficient job of maintaining the parking area by filling potholes on a timely basis. Also, if you outsource a valet service, inquire as to the firm’s safety record. You certainly don’t want a company or individuals who do not have a safety-first mentality parking your customers’ vehicles. 

Final Thought
Some business owners view safety programs as a necessary evil. Others may neglect it altogether. Still, most owners and managers want to provide a safe, fun environment for their guests and employees. They know the importance of a strong safety program and ensure it is successful by recognizing that the best preventive safety endeavors are the ones that involve all employees. Engaging staff in safety programs takes you away from the role of “policing” safety and instead turns the employees into safety consultants who have a stake in providing a safe space for themselves and patrons.

Dr. Steven Austin Stovall is Professor of Management at Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio. He is also a consultant and trainer on all aspects of management, marketing and entrepreneuring. He can be reached at [email protected].


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