Coffee. Beautiful Girl Drinking Tea or CoffeeIt’s a scary world out there. Every year, 13 people are killed when vending machines fall on them, 30 meet their maker due to ant attacks and a whopping 2,900 people are murdered yearly in Africa by raging hippos. Death is more creative than we give him credit for, and even when he’s unable to close the deal, he still finds ways to scare us when we least expect it. Death likes to hang around the food industry, tormenting restaurant workers and keeping many a workers’ compensation attorneyburied in paperwork. What kinds of restaurant injuries happen every day, and how dangerous is it to work in a restaurant? The answers will definitely surprise you.

The Business of Food

In the U.S. and around the world, food is big business. Retail food sales rake in $4 trillion every year, and it takes hard work to produce profits like that. Over 16.5 million people are employed by the food industry. That number is so large that it’s hard to visualize, so to put the picture in focus let’s look at one of the most popular employers, McDonald’s. The fast food chain serves 68 million customers daily in 119 countries and currently employs over 761,000 people. McDonald’s is such a huge employer, in fact, that an estimated 20 million people have worked there at one point in their lives.

In fact, chain restaurants, greasy spoons, upscale eateries and restaurants of all stripes provide 12.9 million jobs in the U.S. alone. It’s estimated that one half of all adults have worked in a restaurant at one point in their lives, and one third say that their first paycheck came from one. And while these jobs might seem relatively safe compared to lion taming or on-site hurricane reporting, people do get injured in restaurants every day. It’s not all fun and games in the land of burgers and fries. Injuries are a lot more common than most people realize.

The Top 5 Restaurant Injuries

So how exactly do restaurant workers get injured on the job? The severity of each injury and the complications associated with it vary from person to person, but statistically, most job accidents fall into one of the following categories:

1. Sprains and Strains. There’s a reason so many of us have been forced to watch training videos about how to lift with our legs and carry heavy boxes. Sprains and strains account for 42% of all on-the-job restaurant injuries. Sprains that cause injury to joints and those that occur when muscle tissues tear are not only extremely painful, but they can cause mobility issues that make daily tasks (and work-related tasks) difficult or even impossible.

2. Lacerations and Punctures. If you were to make a tally of restaurant workers’ injuries over the past year, you’d find that lacerations and punctures are the second most common type. Lacerations can happen anywhere. A prep cook can slice a finger while peeling red potatoes. A distracted deli worker can get too close to the business end of a meat slicer. A waitress can rip open her calf on a sharp metal door. Punctures are almost as common – anything from kitchen knives to bamboo skewers can cause them. Both lacerations and punctures can be superficial or life-threatening, depending on their depth and location.

3. Burns. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” The corny cliché exists for a reason. Deep fryers, pizza ovens and cast iron skillets get extremely hot. An industrial deep fryer can exceed 400 °F, and a commercial pizza oven can reach a whopping 700 °F. Chemical and electrical burns can also occur, so don’t think that you’re safe from this type of injury just because you work in a trendy raw foods restaurant.

4. Fractures. Bone fractures account for 7% of restaurant injuries, which explains why your boss loses his mind every time he sees someone using a ladder without a spotter. Like all injuries, fractures range in severity. A hostess may fracture a finger by slamming her hand in a door. A line cook may slip on a greasy floor and break a hip. Some of these injuries have a quick recovery time, but others can put people out of work for months, years or even lifetimes. A small number of workers even die as a result of fractures.

5. Skin Disorders. The restaurant world is full of chemicals and allergens, and even well-trained workers sometimes make rash decisions (pun intended). Hives, rashes, ringworm, warts – these are just some of the skin disorders that restaurant workers can contract on the job. They’re not pretty, some of them can be pretty painful, and those that are contagious can cause determined workers to lose hours and squander their wages on medications and healing treatments. For these reasons, the scars these injuries leave behind are more than skin deep.

The most common body parts for restaurant workers to injure? Fingers, upper extremities and backs. Together, these account for 63% of injuries, while injuries to other parts of the body round out the remaining 27%.

Restaurant Injuries by Job Title

Who’s most likely to leave work on a stretcher? Unsurprisingly, cooks are the most likely to be injured – they do spend a lot of time with knives and deep fryers, after all. But cooks aren’t the only restaurant workers who suffer from accidents on the job. Here’s the breakdown by job title:

  • Cooks 24%
  • Waiters 15%
  • Food preparers 9%
  • Dish washers 5%
  • Bartenders 4%
  • Cashiers 2%

No one is safe – a fact that’s even scarier when you consider the complications that can arise after an injury. A workers’ compensation attorney may have to fight for victims that have reactions to medications. Victims can reinjure themselves or worsen existing injuries. They may even have surgical complications, and for those who are injured in restaurants, the risk of infection is incredibly high. Why? Because even the cleanest and classiest restaurants can host dangerous viruses and bacteria.

The Gross Truth About Restaurant Germs

Warning: you’re going to spend a lot more time eating in after you read these statistics. Ready? Here we go.

  • The average cutting board has at least 200% more fecal bacteria than a toilet seat.
  • Kitchen faucets are covered in far more germs than toilet handles.
  • Sponges and kitchen sinks both have more bacteria than toilet seats.

Luckily, we humans have advanced immune systems that can keep microscopic creepy crawlies at bay, but the cook who cuts himself and rushes to the sink to run his wound under tap water exposes himself to many different strains of bacteria. As any reputable workers’ compensation attorney will tell you, infections can and do happen, and they have the power to turn something as simple as a tiny cut into a death sentence. It’s just one of the many reasons why every on-the-job injury should be taken seriously.

Advice for Injured Restaurant Workers

So what should you do if you’re injured on the job? What steps should you take to protect your health, your family and your job? Here’s a quick checklist:

  1. First, make sure you’re safe. Remove yourself from danger and get emergency first aid if necessary.
  2. Next, collect the names of witnesses and those who are on duty at the time of your injury.
  3. Use your phone’s camera to document any hazardous conditions that may have led to your accident.
  4. Notify your supervisor and file an official report. You may need proof of this later, so make sure to get your own copy of the document.
  5. If your company provides medical services, go through the proper  channels to receive care. If not, visit your personal doctor and keep all records of appointments, prescriptions and bills.
  6. Contact a reputable workers’ compensation attorney at Ankin Law Office to make sure your rights are protected and that you get the justice you deserve.
  7. Follow through on treatment plans, take your medication, make follow-up appointments, go to physical therapy and do whatever else you need to do to get back on your feet.

If at any point you feel that one of your coworkers or bosses – or even the CEO of the restaurant chain where you work – is trying to stall or silence you, alert your workers’ compensation attorney quickly. Not only will your efforts help you to find the justice you’re seeking, but you’ll help make your restaurant a safer place for the workers who come after you, too.

Don’t Forget to Tip Your Waitress

You’d expect a world full of smiley cookies and Happy Meals to be a generally safe place. For most restaurant workers it is, but as any reputable workers’ compensation attorney will tell you, not everyone can be so lucky. The world is a dangerous place, and it doesn’t stop being dangerous just because you’re busy hand-tossing pizza dough or delivering a birthday cake to the table of a grinning five-year-old. In short, you must stay alert if you want to avoid restaurant injuries.

Oh, and don’t forget to tip your waitress. She’s putting her life on the line for your early bird special. Really, it’s the least you can do.

 More of a visual learner? Check out the helpful infographic we created below.


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Howard Ankin of Ankin Law Office LLC handles workers’ compensation and personal injury cases. Mr. Ankin can be reached at (312) 346-8780 and


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