While hotels and restaurants may not have the high hazard reputation of oil & gas or construction, the hospitality industry is anything but “low hazard.” The definitions of hazard levels in the Occupational Health & Safety Code confirms this, describing “low hazard work” as work performed at administrative or dispersal sites (OHS Code, Schedule 2). The wide variety of work conducted at hospitality businesses most certainly does not fall into either category. Hot stoves, sharps, slippery surfaces, and lifting and carrying are some of the more obvious concerns that take us out of low hazard territory, but there is one much bigger hazard that raises the stakes for all hospitality workers. Though it may not be obvious at first glance, the hazard that poses the greatest risk in our workplaces is also the very reason we are in business: people.
Think about it. The nature of all hospitality businesses is to invite people in and provide them with a service. Our work sites are essentially public spaces; they are open late, (sometimes around the clock), and designed to be welcoming and accessible. Our staff is trained to be hospitable and courteous, and to live by the mantra, "the customer is always right." Add in the fact that we are working in kitchens (complete with hot stoves, deep fryers, sharp knives, slippery floors, etc.), serving alcohol, cleaning hotel rooms and public restrooms, handling money, and often doing many of these tasks while working alone. Then consider the physical and psychological hazards of dealing with dead bodies in hotel rooms, homeless people camping out in stairwells, prostitutes trying to conduct business from a guest room, and guests using illicit drugs on the property. All of this, and we have not even addressed the possibility of robbery, terrorist acts, or ordinary everyday domestic violence.
No, hospitality industry businesses are not inherently low hazard. While many of us have successfully avoided dealing with a serious, life-changing workplace incident, many others have not been so lucky. To reduce the risk and avoid being a statistic (or a witness to one), it is important that we face the fact that stuff happens and take steps to ensure it won’t happen on our watch. Conduct your hazard assessments, implement the best control systems you can afford, and train (and retrain) your staff so they understand the risks and know what steps to take to avoid them. Doing this right will greatly reduce the level of hazard in the workplace, and help protect everyone on the property from an unexpected and unwelcome incident, injury or illness.