With the many hazards found in kitchens and restaurants – water, ice and grease on the floor; spilled food; condensation; people in and out; hot pans and plates full of food – it's not surprising that slips and falls are a concern. Many of the causes of slips and falls at restaurants and commercial kitchens can be found at workplaces in other industries, and the lessons learned the hard way by the hospitality industry can be valuable to other industries as well.

"Slips and falls statistically land at the top of the list of accidents that occur in food service kitchens," says Jeff Nelken, a food safety expert and trainer. "You look at why they occur – wet, sticky and greasy floors, fast-moving employees, shoes that aren't slip-resistant, food on the floor, multiple elevations – and you try to increase awareness among employees about what's going on around them."

He calls this kind of training "creating a 'pre-fall awareness.'"

A Step in the Right Direction

Nelken works with employers around the country to help them spot hazards and either eliminate them, reduce the chance of them causing an incident or train employees to spot them and manage them.

"I start by asking them what accidents or near accidents they've had in the last year," says Nelken. "I hear things like, 'We had some slips near the ice machine. There always is water there.'"

He said employees tell him they trip over the edges of the rubber maps that are placed to reduce slips, trips and falls, making the mats the actual trip hazard. Nelken suggests purchasing strips that are made to "snap" the mats together, so that workers aren't traveling between different levels (flat, slick floor versus raised, non-slip mat). He also pointed out that sometimes, the grip on the mats themselves no longer is effective, and the mats slide around.

"I'll see towels placed under the mats," says Nelken. "I ask about it and I'm told that when the floor gets wet, the mats slide around. Easily 75 percent of the time, the mats are not maintained. Over time, they lose the ability to grip the floor. Certain cleaning products degrade them. I tell owners: 'Think of them like your car tires. You need to measure the depth of the tread of your tires with a penny to make sure they are safe. You need to check the 'tread' on your mats too.'"

Other floor-related advice includes using clean water and appropriate cleaning products to mop up water, grease, food and any other spills and to do it in a timely manner. He said he walks into many kitchens and sees a bucket of dirty water with a dirty mop soaking in it. "That's disgusting! How much effort does it take to empty that dirty water and replace it with clean water and some sanitizer?" asks Nelken. "Swiping greasy, dirty water back over the floor is not going to make that floor less slippery or clean."

He also recommends that employers research cleaning products and floor coatings. Certain cleaning products contain additives that do double duty: they clean the floor but also provide some traction. There are floor coatings available that also can give floors some traction, he says, noting that Trader Joe's stores use them and are examples in action.

"Ask yourself: What makes floors slippery? Is it water, grease, condensation, spilled food? Try to eliminate or manage whatever that slip hazard is," says Nelken.

Keep floors as dry and clean as possible and encourage employees to mop up spills when they see them. If they know they are going to be dropping frozen food into a fryer, then there's going to be oil splatter on the floor that needs to be cleaned up before someone slips. If they're using a slicer, juice might drip on the floor and they need to be aware of that. Employees are the first line of defense in reducing slip hazards, he says.

Shoes Wisely

Workers on construction sites and in manufacturing facilities know that they need to wear appropriate footwear for their industry. The hospitality industry is no different when it comes to requiring appropriate footwear. Comfort is a concern, of course, but so is protection. Choosing the right shoes can make all the difference, says Nelken.

"Some employees come in wearing 'street' shoes – leather shoes with leather soles or athletic shoes. That's not appropriate for a kitchen," he says. "There is non-slip footwear out there and that's what employees should be wearing."

He says he doesn't see proper footwear in kitchens as often as he'd like. He tells his clients to contact footwear manufacturers that sell lines of shoes made specifically for the hospitality industry. Often, those manufacturers or their distributors can bring out mobile "shoe stores" so that employees can try on and purchase appropriate footwear.

"These companies are more than happy to come out and talk to your employees and demonstrate the shoes and talk about appropriate footwear. Use that resource," Nelken advises.

In addition to slip-resistant shoes, employees who work around knives or hot grease have to be aware of those hazards and ensure that if they drop a knife or a hot pan on their feet, that their shoes will offer protection from injury.