On June 3, 1991, the Colorado Department of Health (CDH) was notified of a work-related burn sustained by a 20-year-old employee of a fast-food restaurant. The employee had been following the restaurant's standard procedure for cleaning exhaust filters located approximately five feet above a deep fryer. She had placed a wooden cover over three of the fryer's four bins, all four of which contained hot grease; no cover was available for the fourth bin. While standing on a chair she had placed on the wooden cover to reach and remove the filters, she fell, sustaining second- and third-degree burns over 10% of her body when she immersed her arm and shoulder in the hot grease contained in the uncovered fourth bin. She was hospitalized for 4 days and later required plastic surgery for scarring.(1)
A report published in 2015 from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health indicated that a majority of fast-food workers had suffered an injury while on the job within the past year. Surveying nearly 1,500 adults who worked in a non-managerial positions, 79 percent said they were burned while working within the past year, and 58 percent said they suffered multiple burns. More striking, however, were the following findings:
- 51 percent of workers said their employer could make the job safer.
- 33 percent of burn victims said their managers suggested “inappropriate” treatment for burns, such as applying mustard, mayonnaise or ketchup instead of burn ointment.
- 36 percent of workers said their workplace lacked a stocked, accessible first aid kit.
- 36 percent said they suffered a burn because pressure from management made them work too quickly to be safe.
- 29 percent said they suffered a burn because the restaurant was understaffed.
And the fast-food industry isn’t the only sector at risk for burn injuries. A 2015 study by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine noted that the agriculture, construction and manufacturing industries also showed high rates of burns. Since different industries have different exposures, as well as different populations, leaders need to tailor their approaches to address their workplace’s specific needs.
In the example above, the employee trusted and followed the restaurant’s standard procedure and still was injured. What sort of cultural factors could have prevented the injury?
- If the employee had stopped the task because of the unsafe situation, would her manager have backed her up?
- If the manager had ordered a new fryer cover beforehand—or a new, safer setup between the fryers and exhausts—would the company have backed them up?
- Would another employee or her manager have felt comfortable stopping her, overriding the accepted procedure?
- Other than obeying warning labels and basic job training, are employees trained to recognize and assess hazards, and deal with them?
Safety takes more than annual training and wearing protective equipment. Companies that care for their people can systematically work across the enterprise to reduce hazardous conditions that create exposure to injury.
Learn more about serious injury and fatality prevention here.
(1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Occupational Burns Among Restaurant Workers -- Colorado and Minnesota.” https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00021845.htm (accessed February 12, 2020).
Burn Awareness Week, sponsored by the American Burn Association, is observed in the first full week in February.