Staffing shortages, turnover and new hires led to a significant spike in workers’ comp claims in restaurants as the industry reawakened after COVID-19 lockdowns, according to a report from AmTrust Financial Services.
“We knew that the pandemic was having an outsized effect in the restaurant industry, and it was reflected in some of the numbers,” said Matt Zender (pictured) senior vice president, workers’ compensation strategy at AmTrust Financial Services.
What’s contributing to the rise in restaurant claims?
The 2022 AmTrust Restaurant Risk Report looked at nearly 170,000 claims over 10 years to track common injuries and resulting time off for restaurant workers. It found that while overall injuries fell, specific injuries like crushing, fainting, inflammation, strains, and mental stress were significantly higher compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
“There was a large drop in frequency of claims from the restaurant sector during the pandemic, which we expected, but the bounce back was also higher than we anticipated. This is due to many workers being new in their jobs, which clearly led to more claims, and different ones as well,” Zender told Insurance Business.
Mental stress claims spiked 71% above pre-COVID levels in 2021, the highest on record and second only to crushing injuries as the exposure that jumped the highest (89%) in the wake of the pandemic. But these claims varied by state, according to Zender, as some states had “a clear path towards comprehensibility” on what constitutes mental stress claims while other states didn’t.
“But on average, we did see an increase [in mental stress claims]. The pandemic manifested itself not only in physical ways, but in mental ways as well, where workers had to deal with stressors that left them ill-equipped to deal with certain situations,” the executive said.
What are the most common restaurant injuries?
According to the AmTrust report, the following are the four most common causes of injury claims and their average payout:
- Cuts, punctures and scrapes - $1,519
- Falls and slips – $10,041
- Strains - $9,277
- Burns or scalding injuries - $3,160
While cuts, punctures and scrapes from knives and other sharp kitchen objects occurred most frequently, falls from slippery or wet surfaces as well as movement around dining tables incurred 410% more in claims costs.
Interestingly, claims from muscle strains jumped 23% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Zender said this increase may be due to workers diving straight back into physically demanding work after a long hiatus from restaurant closures.
“Some of these injuries are no different than if an athlete were on injury reserve for six months and then immediately jumped back into play,” he explained. “You need to work yourself back into shape. In certain cases, some folks hadn’t been as active as they had been [prior to the restaurant closures], so those types of soft-tissue injuries are more likely to happen.”
How can brokers and agents help restaurant owners mitigate risks?
The hospitality industry is no stranger to staff shortages, even before the pandemic. But Zender said restaurant operators have a unique opportunity to both mitigate their risk of on-the-job injuries and differentiate themselves in a competitive labor market.
“Mitigating risks and improving workplace safety is not just about protecting your employees. It's also about highlighting your overall brand, and what makes you different [as an employer],” he explained. “If you spend time and energy demonstrating to your workers that you care about their safety, they’ll channel that back by paying more attention to customers and giving [their roles] a bit more diligence.”
Underwriters are also looking at employees’ tenure when they assess a restaurant’s exposures. This means brokers and agents should highlight the importance of caring for staff that have worked in a restaurant for years.
“Tenure is not something that’s highlighted as often as it should be,” Zender said. “You'll hear stories about operators who take care of their employees while they were off work and made sure they kept up with their benefits or other compensation while they were out. Those types of stories are clearly very powerful.”
Finally, brokers and agents should also encourage their clients to leverage an important step in their hiring process: onboarding. “It’s the first opportunity to let employees know who you are and what makes your restaurant special, because it’s an extremely competitive space,” Zender pointed out. “Your employees, and of course your food, are a way you can ensure customers feel good about their experience.”
What are your thoughts on mitigating risks for restaurants? Share them in the comments below.