Security Policies Save Lives
Restaurant OSHA Safety and Security
Chapter 51. Security
Restaurants and bars are prime targets for robbery, burglary, theft, and other criminal and violent activity—due in large part to their odd hours of operation (early mornings and late nights), the number of diverse people from all demographics who frequent them, the serving of alcoholic beverages, and the large amounts of cash transactions that take place. Consider, for example, the following statistics:
- There are more than one million restaurants in the United States
- Over 14 million restaurant employees
- 25 percent of all retail business establishments are restaurants
- It is an annual $700+ billion industry
- The average annual sales per restaurant is approximately $800,000
- The average American eats out five times per week
- One out of four Americans consume fast food each day
- 33 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment claims come from the restaurant industry
- 21 percent of all workplace robberies occur in restaurants and bars
51.1 Steps to Avoid Security Risks and Liabilities
Crimes committed in restaurants and bars often result in injuries, harm, and even death to employees and patrons. It is restaurant industry standard to have established written safety policies, practices, and procedures pertaining to restaurant security and to implement and train these policies, practices, and procedures on a continual and ongoing basis. Security matters include, but are not limited to: back door security, lighting security, security personnel (bouncers, doormen, etc.), crime prevention training (robbery prevention, response procedures, etc.), physical barriers, and surveillance and alarm systems (how to operate, disable, and engage, etc.).
51.2 Safe Work Practices
OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace; employers who do not take reasonable steps to prevent or abate a recognized safety and security hazard can be cited. OSHA advises, and it is restaurant industry standard, to follow best practices and take preventative measures regarding safety and security; including, but not limited to, the following:
- Secure the workplace.
- Install video surveillance.
- Install extra lighting.
- Install alarm systems.
- Conduct background checks on new hires—this is especially important pertaining to those who will have access to keys, codes, passwords, and cash and those who will be in charge of safety and security of the facility and other individuals.
- Minimize access by outsiders through identification badges, electronic keys, and guards.
- Provide drop safes to limit the amount of cash on hand.
- Keep a minimal amount of cash in registers during evenings and late-night hours (typically, robbers like to strike late at night or in the early morning hours when there are fewer employees on duty).
- Post signs saying, “No more than $100 in cash register at all times.”
- Keep the cash register closed when not in use.
- Keep the cash register in line of sight of other employees.
- Do not count cash in front of customers.
- When appropriate, equip staff with cellular phones and hand-held alarms or noise devices and require those who have to travel to prepare a daily work plan and keep a contact person informed of their location throughout the day.
- Keep employer-provided vehicles properly maintained.
- Instruct employees not to enter any location where they feel unsafe.
- Establish and follow lock-up procedures.
- Introduce and follow a “buddy system” when employees need to be outside after dark or when employees leave the restaurant at the same time.
- Assess staffing needs at high-risk areas and times.
- Install a panic button under the counter to quickly notify the police and be sure to inform and train each employee on its location and use.
- Never allow an employee to be left to work alone in the restaurant.
- Avoid traveling alone and entering into unfamiliar locations or situations whenever possible.
- Provide an escort or police assistance in potentially dangerous situations or at night or for anyone who has a shift that ends late and must walk through a dark parking lot to their vehicle.
- Alert management to any concerns about safety and security immediately—verbally and in writing.
- Install height markers to help employees identify the height of suspects.
- Establish and follow a reporting system for all incidents.
- Develop, implement, and train a restaurant safety plan for dealing with unsatisfied customers, robbery, or theft.
- Report incidents to local police promptly.
- Use panic bars on exit doors so they can be locked, but employees can safely exit if they need to.
- Provide for exit route doors from the inside of a building at all times without keys, tools, or special knowledge requirements.
- OSHA Standard: Means of Egress, 1910.36(d)(1): Employees must be able to open an exit route door from the inside at all times without keys, tools, or special knowledge. A device such as a panic bar that locks only from the outside is permitted on exit discharge doors.
- Keep the back doors locked unless you are receiving a delivery.
- Set up regular times for deliveries.
Warning: Child labor laws forbid young workers (younger than sixteen) from working after 7 p.m. except from June 1st through Labor Day when evening hours are extended to 9 p.m. Do not leave young workers alone at night to lock up. (Note: State child labor laws may be even more stringent.)
Sadly, many times the offender comes from within the restaurant itself. A large percentage of armed robberies and theft in restaurants involve current and former restaurant employees and friends. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, approximately 75 percent of employees steal from their workplace; and the National Restaurant Association estimates that employee theft—through either loss of inventory (shrinkage) or loss of cash and merchandise (larceny)—is responsible for 75 percent of inventory shortages found in restaurants (equaling about four percent of total sales). For every dollar stolen, a business needs approximately $20 in sales to recover; employee theft costs restaurants an estimated $3 billion to $6 billion per year.
Over time, employees get comfortable with their jobs and their surroundings, and they become familiar with how things work on a day-to-day basis. Also, over time, management can become lazy and stop following the customary policies and procedures regarding safety, health, and security. Too often, they mistakenly trust the wrong person. This combination of events provides ample opportunity to those employees who are dishonest to access the facility, food product, cash, and merchandise.
There are many ways in which restaurant employees steal—some may be more intentional than others; however, the effects on your bottom line remain the same. For instance, wait staff often think that giving away a free drink to a customer is no big deal, and bartenders who over-pour think they’re just providing great service to keep the customer coming back for more; but these acts add up to huge monetary losses at the end of the day.
A more deliberate act of thievery, and one that is more common than you may care to know, is when restaurant employees put food products (sometimes even whole roasts and hams) in the bottom of a clean garbage bag at the beginning of their shift; then they insert this bag into a trash can with another garbage bag inserted inside of that one. When it’s time to empty the trash can, the employees remove the double bags from the trash container and take them outside, pull the bag with the real garbage out, and place it in the dumpster, then take the bottom bag full of merchandise to their cars—or come back and “dumpster dive” for their stash after closing time.
51.3 Back Door Security and Control
When it comes to security, the back door area of a restaurant is one of the most vulnerable, not only because of who might come in through the back door, but what might be going out as well (such as the example provided above of the hidden food products in the garbage bags).
Normally, the outside rear of the restaurant is an area designated for the garbage dumpsters and trash cans, and these areas are sometimes poorly lit. Many times, employees leave the back doors unlocked or propped open to make taking out the trash easier, to let in fresh air if the kitchen gets overheated, or perhaps to take a quick smoke break whenever they feel the urge.
Unfortunately, these unsecured doors also allow would-be thieves to slip in and out unnoticed, carrying valuable merchandise with them, or allow access to those with even more serious crimes in mind like rape, robbery, or murder.
To prevent and limit exposure to such dangerous crimes, it is reasonable and customary in the restaurant industry to establish, implement, and train back door policies and procedures, such as, but not limited to, the following:
- Ensure that the back door itself is as safe and secure as possible. There are several ways to accomplish this: for example, video surveillance, automatic closure, exterior jimmy plate, automatic locking system, peephole, inside panic bar, no exterior knob, and/or a door buzzer or alarm system.
- Restaurant employees should not be allowed to use the back door to enter or leave the restaurant.
- The back door should never be left open or propped open.
- Management should make monitoring the back door part of their “management walk” (refer to section 26, Internal Safety Audits, Inspections, and Walkthroughs).
- Management should never leave their keys in the doors or in the alarm system.
- Management should never share secret codes or passwords to alarm systems with employees, and they should never allow employees to use their keys for any reason.
- Never provide keys, codes, or passwords to vendors or suppliers and do not leave vendors and suppliers unattended while making their deliveries.
- When necessary to open the back door (for trash removal or deliveries), a member of management should always be present.
- A sign should be posted on both the inside (and outside) of the door, stating the rules for authorized openings.