Safety First

A couple years ago, Cathy and I watched The Answer Man starring Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham. Lauren’s character is a single mom who’s a bit overprotective of her son. There is one exchange in particular that became a running joke between my wife and I. I cannot remember the exact quote, but it was some advice she gave to her son as he went off to school. Something to the effect of “Be safe! Have fun, but be safe! Learn stuff! Be safe! I love you! Be safe!”

It was quite endearing. “Be safe.” It has become my new favorite mantra. “Be safe.” I almost use it as much as “I love you” when departing from my wife. When I’m at work, I use a variation quite often. “Safety First.” I say it to every trainee whenever I’m explaining a need to take a few extra seconds to avoid injuring oneself or others.

Because I see it all the time. Coworkers leaving dishes or kitchen equipment in the most unsafe of places, or precarious of positions. Glasses too close to the edge of a counter, plates left on side stations, blocking access to decanters, or glass rack carts left in the middle of aisles are all scenarios that repeat themselves almost daily. It evokes a truly visceral response when I see that bordeaux glass perched precariously on the edge of the shelf in the dishpit. Because I have seen that glass fall and shatter too many times before. It’s even worse, when I take a moment to try to avert disaster and end up causing it.

Yet I keep at it. I keep moving those glass racks, straightening those stacks of dishes, or picking up that lemon wedge and fork off the floor. So no one else slips, or trips, or hurts themselves in any way, shape. or form. I’m committed to a safe work environment, for others, but also, admittedly, for myself.

In the end, the broader picture is one of safety in all aspects of my life. Being hurt sucks! I don’t like it. No one likes it. Yet, so many ignore safety when they put other priorities ahead of it.

A few examples of less than obvious dangers in the restaurant world include the following:

1. The Power Stance – I see it all the time. Someone standing with one or both hands on their hips. This stance may instill confidence and make one feel more relaxed and in control, but it’s taking up extra space in the narrow, crowded spaces that servers have to navigate with heavy, sharp, or spill-prone objects. Elbows at your sides is the way to go.

2. The Right of Way – On the roads, vehicles take turns. It’s polite and independent of size. The exceptions are ambulances and emergency vehicles. In the workplace, it’s silly. Size of burden matters. No matter how busy you think you are, yield to the guy carrying twenty large platters. Also, treat customers/guests like trains. No matter how big a truck is, or how heavy the load, it still has to yield to a train.

3. The Lemon – It’s easy to become too trusting of one’s slip-resistance shoe soles. I’ve found that while they work great on wet tile, they are easily compromised by ice, ice cubes, butter, lemon wedges, and other substances that can take mere seconds to clean up or secure out of harm’s way.

4. Being a “Doorstop” – The flow of staff is a lot like traffic in any given major city. There are numerous trouble spots throughout a restaurant that are often ignored. Most architects have never taken these into account because they assume people are smarter than this. They don’t expect people to stand in the middle of an aisle, so they only design it to have  two “lanes” rather than three. Corners and intersections aren’t designed to accommodate gatherings in their middles. It’s assumed people will slowdown near blind spots; high column/wall/shelf areas that are hard to see around. Yet people ignore these all the time. I see coworkers stop in the middle of intersections, stand in the middle of aisles, or congregate in clusters far our from the sides of an aisle.

There are many more examples, but you get the idea. These are just some of the challenges to safety that I face every day in my workplace. I’m sure they occur in all restaurants, and beyond that, in retail stores, movie theaters, schools, churches, offices, factories, and any other place where more than two people gather or attempt to move through. The cumulative threats to safety are staggering, and easily addressed if we simply, as a people, had one unified goal in mind. Safety first.

So the next time you’re out and about, or working on your feet, open your eyes and think about the safety of others. In doing so, you’ll be insuring your own as well. Enjoy!

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