The hidden risks facing hotel workers and how to prevent them

Open flames, sharp knives, heavy objects, busy and fast-moving areas. All of these are daily realities for many hospitality industry workers, and all of them pose risks, both to the individual and to the business employing them. Many of these risks go under-recognized, leaving businesses exposed in the eventuality that something goes wrong. 

Risk managers play a pivotal role in recognizing, communicating and preparing their organizations for these risks. Through the development and implementation of a concrete training program for risk prevention, organizations can help to instill a culture of awareness around occupational safety. It’s easier than it sounds to identify and address hospitality industry risk – you just need to know where to focus your resources.

The Kitchen

One of the most risk-intensive areas in any hospitality setting is the kitchen. By its very nature, the kitchen is a fast-paced environment, with workers aiming to get the highest-quality end product to guests in the shortest amount of time. Naturally, there is enormous time pressure in a generally small area full of people moving very quickly. 

Consider a busy pass in the middle of dinner service at a top hotel: chefs calling to each other over the din of cooking noises and the guests on the other side of the wall. One chef is taking a freshly cooked steak out of a pan that sits on a still-roaring gas burner as the extraction fan rumbles overhead. She turns to hand the now-empty pan to the pot-wash by a sink full of soapy water.

There are no fewer than ten risks in this scenario, from the obvious—sharp knives, hot burners—to the seemingly innocuous—soap suds on the floor and constant kitchen noise. At any moment, a ‘live’ professional kitchen is juggling countless potential risks, and is it is absolutely critical that incident awareness training and safety culture permeate every action taken by every member of the staff. If you can remove the pot handles reaching out into aisles and ensure anyone handling a knife has been properly trained in safety, you will smooth many potential pitfalls.

The Parking Lot

Another environment that presents pitfalls in our hypothetical hotel is a spot where the first interactions with the guest often take place—valet parking. There are several obvious distinctions between the risks faced in a kitchen and on a valet stand, so incident awareness takes on a different profile in this location. 

Here, security risks are prevalent: valet tickets being lost or used fraudulently, third-party damage of vehicles and theft of personal effects to name a few.

So how can you prevent these risks from translating into losses? The first step is a strong vetting process for employees, coupled with clear training to instill safe driving habits and straightforward instructions for the handling of keys and cash. Contracts must also be explicit on the subject of liability in the case of loss or damage of vehicle and contents.


The bread and butter of a hotel property—the rooms—hold some of the greatest potential risks for hotel staff. The use of chemicals in the cleaning process, the maneuvering of heavy laundry carts, and the close proximity to dirty bedclothes all pose potential risks to your housekeeping team, and a comprehensive safety program is essential important for workers in this role.

In the housekeeping sphere of hospitality risk management, training is a top concern. Are staff given regular training in how to minimize the side-effects of repetitive tasks and exposure to chemicals? Are they trained in the best techniques for carrying heavy objects safely? Does safety education continue to be part of your organizational culture beyond the initial onboarding and training period for a new employee?

Resources, Training Programs

Workplace safety resources and training programs are valuable tools to help organizations foster a culture of safety.

Building a culture of safety doesn’t happen overnight, but with the right tools, it’s a very achievable goal. A third-party perspective is valuable when it comes to effectively mitigating the full suite of risks in all of these fundamentally different environments, and that’s where your insurance partner can play a key role. 

Having someone who can observe the operating processes in your kitchen, look over your vetting procedure for your valet staff, and point out oversights in your domestic staff training program is the first step in protecting yourself and your business from potential risk—and as it’s in the carrier’s vested interest to see your organization mitigate risk, this kind of interaction is a win/win for both of you.

The next step after increasing your own awareness and that of your team is to devise a plan to fill the gaps and cover any blind spots that may generate exposure. Look for a carrier partner that is prepared to bring feasible and proven risk mitigation methods to your organization. After that, it’s over to you to implement the plan.

The final step in this process is to start again—though maybe not immediately. It’s important to regularly ensure your training programs and operating processes are covering the rapidly evolving risk profile of your business. For that, a risk manager is your best resource.

The better you have trained your team and instilled a culture of safety into their day, the more prepared they will be for the inevitable risks associated with their occupations.  

Glen O’Connor is senior vice president, technical services director, risk control at Sompo International.