While employers must provide a safe work environment, including proper training and hazard communications to their workers, workplace injuries still happen all the time, with 2.8 injuries per 100 full-time workers every year.
Whether you're in the food service, retail, hospitality, or janitorial industry, you're at risk for potential short- and long-term on-the-job injuries.
Here's what you need to know about workplace injuries you may be at risk for as a service industry worker, as well as your rights as an employee if you get injured while on the job.
What Is the Service Industry?
The service industry refers to a part of the economy that creates or offers services instead of tangible objects. Some of the most common service industries are:
- Food Service Industry: The food service industry includes facilities that make or serve meals for immediate consumption on-site, like restaurants, cafes, or food kiosks. 11.9 million people work in this industry as general restaurant workers, bakers, chefs, prep cooks, butchers, line cooks, waiters, and bussers. These workers are at potential risk for slips and falls, accidental burns, and exposure to chemicals and bloodborne pathogens.
- Retail Industry: Employing 29 million people, businesses in the retail industry sell consumer goods to customers that satisfy supply and demand. These range from major retail stores to brick-and-mortar shops. Typical jobs in the sector include management, sales, stocking, and janitorial tasks. Potential risks include slips and falls, exposure to chemicals, and repetitive stress injuries.
- Hospitality Industry: The hospitality industry comprises a wide range of different businesses that serve clients and customers, including hotels, resorts, restaurants, hospitals, medical centers, and nursing homes. More than 13.13 million workers in the industry occupy common jobs, including concierge staff, hotel management, housekeeping, waiter, aides and assistants, and nurses. Potential risks include slips and falls, exposure to chemicals, bloodborne pathogens, and repetitive stress injuries.
- Janitorial Industry: More than 1.7 million people make a living employed in the cleaning industry. In this career path, workers offer cleaning services for commercial and residential buildings, like hotels, schools, and homes. Typical jobs include janitors, maids, cleaning assistants, and even trauma scene cleanup specialists. Potential risks include slips and falls, exposure to chemicals, bloodborne pathogens, and repetitive stress injuries.
5 Most Common Injuries in Service Industry
Despite best efforts, service industry injuries are relatively common in the workplace. That's precisely why safety guidelines exist. When the inevitable occurs, service industry workers are protected by workers' compensation benefits.
But even with these situational and financial backups, it can still be a process to heal and sort out workers' compensation when employed in these busy and potentially dangerous industries.
Here are some of the most common workplace injuries in the service industry.
Workplace Injury #1: Exposure to Chemicals and Bloodborne Pathogens
Employees from all types of positions in the service industry are exposed to potentially dangerous substances like chemicals and bloodborne pathogens.
For example, workers employed in the janitorial and food service industries have to handle chemicals for disinfecting and cleaning surfaces and floors to stop the transmission of bacteria.
However, exposure to these chemicals can lead to short- and long-term effects like poisoning, rashes, and lung, kidney, and liver disorders. The World Health Organization says that around 1.3 million people die every year from exposure to chemicals.
Similarly, people who work in hospitality experience exposure to bloodborne pathogens regularly. These infectious microorganisms can cause diseases like hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Whether working as a hotel manager or nursing home caregiver, hospitality employees across niches participate in one-on-one time with patients and clients that might lead to chemical or blood exposure.
The best way to avoid these long-term injuries is to be diligent about practicing prevention through proper mask and glove usage and needle or biohazard handling. Workplaces can hold safety seminars to remind employees how to appropriately handle chemicals and blood without increasing their risk of damaging exposure.
Workplace Injury #2: Wet Floors Which Cause Slips and Falls
While slips and falls are not the leading cause of occupational injuries, they represent the leading cause of lost working days.
All service industries require some level of floor cleaning, which immediately puts all employees at risk for slips and falls. On the other hand, many employees injured on the job from slips and falls do so because of everyday situations like tripping over rugs or debris due to poor lighting. Floors and materials contribute to 2 million fall injuries every year.
There are plenty of ways to avoid slips and falls in the workplace. Whether employed as restaurant workers or janitorial workers, it's essential to practice prevention through:
- Cleaning all spills immediately
- Marking slippery or wet areas
- Keeping hallways and working areas well-lit
- Closing cabinets and doors
- Securing mats and rugs to lay flat
- Keeping walkways free of any clutter
Workplace Injury #3: Stress Injuries From Repetitive Activity
This type of workplace injury often goes unseen because it forms slowly over time and may be difficult to prove. However, stress injuries are all too legitimate and dangerous.
Caused by repetitive activity, like stocking shelves, typing on a computer, or mopping the floor, a repetitive stress injury (RSI) is a type of overuse injury in the workplace used to describe strain and pain in the muscles of the upper body.
A worker with RSI may experience neck pain, elbow pain, shoulder pain, mid back pain, wrist pain, or lower back pain.
Repetitive stress injuries affect all types of people in all kinds of workplaces, especially those in the service industry, requiring a lot of physical labor and movement throughout the day. Unfortunately, 1.8 million workers are afflicted by RSIs per year, with around 600,000 of those people taking time off from work to recuperate.
RSIs usually stem from training errors and technique errors, like improper lifting. Employers can prevent RSIs through proper training and practice. For example, a warehouse manager should remind its workers of the safe way to stock shelves and provide their employees with back braces.
Workplace Injury #4: Workplace Violence Between Workers
As unfortunate as it is, violence between employees is one of the most common injuries in the workplace.
In 2018, almost 21,000 workers experienced trauma from nonfatal workplace violence that required days off from work. At the same time, more than 450 workers were victims of homicide in the workplace.
Workplace violence stems from several issues, such as:
- Staff shortages
- Increased patient morbidities
- Exposure to violent individuals
- Absence of solid workplace violence prevention programs
According to The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)'s General Duty Clause, employers need to “have a ‘general duty' to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harms.”
However, OSHA doesn't have a specific workplace violence mandate in place, which has caused an outcry from service workers all over the country.
The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act was introduced in 2020 to provide a required framework to identify risks, provide guidance for work practices, and require training, reporting, and incident investigation.
Whether or not this act passes, employers need to practice this exact framework with their workers and take time to identify potential risks, patterns, and violent persons in the workplace.
Workplace Injury #5: Accidental Burns, Cuts, and Injections
Burns, cuts, and injections can happen to just about any worker in any service industry.
Burns in the food service industry are relatively common and often involve burns from handling hot pots or hot oil spills. However, other burns like electrical, chemical, thermal, and sunburns are also widespread in the workplace. The severity may vary from a first-degree burn to a fourth-degree burn.
No matter the situation, it is the employer's responsibility to provide a safe workplace. This means providing adequate initial training, refresher training, and consistent hazard communication.
For food service workers, wearing protective equipment and being aware of their surroundings is the best way for employees to avoid accidental burns while in the kitchen. Employers should educate employees on the risk of working near electrical sources and high-voltage areas and ensure employees are working with marked machinery.
Cuts, lacerations, and punctures are responsible for about 30% of all workplace injuries.
Wearing protective equipment like eye protection, gloves, and long sleeves, keeping the work area clear, and receiving frequent training and safety techniques are among the best ways to prevent cuts in the workplace.
There are somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 accidental needle-stick injuries (NSIs) every year, with emergencies being the leading cause.
To prevent NSIs, the Center for Disease Control recommends eliminating needles if other alternatives are available, providing needles with safety features, and keeping sharps containers close at hand.
Service industries play a vital role in the economy, accounting for 74% of gross domestic product (GDP) in high-income countries like the United States.
There's no question about the essential nature of the service industry is to the U.S. However, workplace injuries require you to exercise your rights as an employee. In many cases, this means opening up a workers' compensation claim.
Filing a workers' compensation claim doesn't automatically mean that it's you versus your employer. If there are any issues between the two of you after filing your injury, then it's time to call the workers' compensation attorneys at Schwartz Law Firm.
With more than 20 years of personal injury and workers' comp lawsuit experience, Schwartz Law will fight for your rights—no matter what. Contact Schwartz Law today for a free consultation.