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December 1, 2010

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Fast-food giant fined following serious safety lapse

A worker at a McDonalds restaurant suffered serious burns to his eyes when sulphuric acid sprayed into his face as he attempted to unblock a drain.

South Western Magistrates’ Court heard that the incident took place at a McDonalds outlet in Wandsworth, Greater London. On 20 June 2008, staff noticed that a washing machine was not working and identified that a pipe behind the machine, which led to a drain, was blocked. In order to remove the blockage, the restaurant bought a corrosive sulphuric acid-based product and poured it into the pipe.

The acid was left to work over the weekend, but when a member of staff checked the pipe three days later, the blockage had still not cleared up. Managers at the store decided to buy more of the product to complete the job. However, when one of the workers poured more of the chemical down the waste pipe, it blew back into his face and into his eyes. He sustained burns and has been left with only 55 to 60-per-cent vision in his left eye, and experienced a 97-per-cent recovery in his right eye. It’s thought that his sight is unlikely to improve any further.

Environmental health officers from Wandsworth Council investigated the incident and found that the restaurant did not carry out a risk assessment before using the chemical. The council’s environment spokesperson, councillor Sarah McDermott, told SHP: “As a company, McDonalds has a good overall safety record, but in this case its standards fell below what would reasonably be expected of a responsible employer.

“No risk assessment was carried out to ensure this product was safe to use, he was not properly supervised while using it; he was not given any training to reduce the risk of an accident, nor was he provided with protective clothing.

“This was a serious lapse in the company’s internal procedures. Using a hazardous chemical to clean a drain would involve obvious safety risks. 

“In this case, the company failed in its duty of care to this member of staff. As a result, he has been left with a permanent and debilitating eye injury.”

McDonalds Restaurants Ltd appeared in court on 11 November and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £5000 and ordered to pay £15,744 in costs.

In mitigation, the company said it had no previous convictions and deeply regretted the incident. A spokesperson from McDonalds said: “We are very sorry for the eye injury incurred by our staff member.  We regret that on this occasion our stringent safety procedures were not followed and inappropriate, non-approved cleaning materials were used.€ᄄ€ᄄ
“As part of our ongoing continuous improvement programme, we have since reiterated to all our restaurants the dangers of using non-approved cleaning materials, introduced a specific personalised risk assessment for maintenance employees and retraining of the local restaurant team.”

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