Profiles in Safety and Health: Eating and Drinking Places

By Personick, Martin E. | Monthly Labor Review, June 1991 | Go to article overview

Profiles in Safety and Health: Eating and Drinking Places


Personick, Martin E., Monthly Labor Review


Profiles in safety and health: eating and drinking places

Eating and drinking places reported large numbers of workplace injuries and illnesses, primarily to teenagers and women who comprise most of the industry's work force; sprains, cuts, and burns were leading work disabilities

In 1770, the first public restaurant opened in paris. Today, nearly 400,000 eating and drinking places are reported in the United States alone. They employ some 6 million workers who prepare and serve an impressive array of meals, snacks, and other refreshments. Although the fare varies from fast food to haute cuisine, the industry's workers often encounter similar job hazards and sustain common injuries, including scalding burns and serious cuts while preparing meals, as well as disabling sprains and strains in the course of serving food and drink.

This article examines characteristics of the eating and drinking places industry and analyzes its injury and illness record in detail.(1) It covers the restaurant industry as part of a Bureau of Labor Statistics series focusing on "high-impact" industries, defined as those with the largest numbers of occupational injuries and illnesses, although not necessarily the highest incidence rates.(2) According to a 1989 BLS survey, eating and drinking places ranked first in total recordable injuries and illnesses, with 355,000 cases. Only 10 industries, the survey These industries, however, accounted for nearly three-tenths of the 6.6 million cases reported nationwide in 1989. Clearly, if industries with high case counts become safer, more healthful workplaces, the the national figures will reflect these improvements in addition to those stemming from safer working conditions in "high-rate" industries.

However, a trend to safer restaurants, bars, and related workplaces is not evident from BLS survey results of the 1980's. At the start of the decade, the injury and illness rate of 6.9 per 100 full-time workers for eating and drinking places was nearly two points lower than the private sector rate of 8.7.(3) Nine year, its rate had risen to 8.5, in line with the private sector rate of 8.6. Currently, eating and drinking places account for 1 in 20 on-the-job injuries and illnesses reported nationwide.

The severity of accidents in eating and drinking places required nearly two-fifths of those injured to take time off from their jobs or to be assigned to light duties or other work restrictions.(4) Most of the disabled were teenagers and adult women(5)--groups who constitute two-thirds of the industry's work force. More often than not, the injured employee had relatively short tenure (1 year or less) in the eating or drinking place at the time of the accident.(6)

The industry at a glance

Over the past two decades, meals and snacks prepared away from home have become an increasingly larger share of our food budgets, reflecting, in part, greater spending power, desire for greater leisure and convenience at home and away from home, and changing life styles, such as the higher proportion of women who work outside the home. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Surveys, food away from home accounted for slightly more than two-fifhts of total food expenditures by consumers in 1989; in 1972, the corresponding figure was one-fourth.

This shift in eating patterns has resulted in strong employment growth for eating and drinking places. In fact, this industry added more jobs during the 1980's than did any other, increasing its work force from 4.5 million in 1979 to nearly 6.4 million in 1989.(7) By the year 2000, its work force is projected to approach 8 million, about the same job total expected for the whole finance, insurance, and real estate sector.(8)

Increased spending for meals and snacks prepared away from home continues to shift from full service restaurants to fast food establishments. As a result, the share of industry sales receipts of refreshment places (including most fast food units) has risen from 26 percent in 1972 to 38 percent in 1987, the latest data available from the Census of Retail Trade.

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