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Workers Fed Up With McDonald’s: File OSHA Complaints

March 16, 2015
McDonald’s workers in 19 U.S. cities have filed OSHA complaints against the fast food giant, alleging hazardous working conditions. Some workers claim they were told to use condiments like mustard on burns, rather than use appropriate first aid remedies or seek medical attention.

McDonald’s workers in 19 cities who allegedly suffered severe burns on the job have filed 28 health and safety complaints with OSHA against the company. The workers contend that they face hazards such as hot oil, hot grills and greasy, slippery floors.

They allege that understaffing and pressure to work too fast are the main drivers responsible for the injuries. According to the workers, McDonald’s computer system dictates staffing levels and the pace of work, contributing to the conditions that create a hazardous work environment.  

A statement from McDonald's said the company will review the allegations and that its franchisees "are committed to providing safe working conditions for employees in the 14,000 McDonald's brand U.S. restaurants.” The company noted that it believes the complaints were filed as part of a “larger strategy orchestrated by activists targeting our brand and designed to generate media coverage.”

Fight for $15, a group that is backed by the Service Employees International Union, publicized the worker complaints and is spearheading the effort to organize fast food workers into a union.

The complaints filed with OSHA claim that many McDonald’s locations lack basic first aid or personal protective equipment (PPE) – such as gloves, aprons, goggles or heat-resistant sleeves – necessary to ensure workers’ safety, and that managers often tell workers to treat burns with condiments like mustard rather than burn cream.

“My managers kept pushing me to work faster, and while trying to meet their demands I slipped on a wet floor, catching my arm on a hot grill,” said Brittney Berry, who has worked at McDonald’s in Chicago since 2011, and who suffered a severe burn on her forearm and nerve damage from the accident. “The managers told me to put mustard on it, but I ended up having to get rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.”

The complaints, filed with federal OSHA and state safety and health authorities, allege a wide range of serious dangers at the workplace, including: pressure to clean and filter the fryer while the oil is hot; lack of proper protective equipment; floors that are greasy or wet; and missing or empty first aid kits. Complaints were filed at both corporate and franchised locations.

“One of my coworkers and I have to empty the grease trap without protective gear, and since we were never given the proper equipment or training, we just dump the hot grease into a plastic bag in a box of ice,” said Martisse Campbell, who works at McDonald’s in Philadelphia, and whose hand was severely burned by boiling grease from a fryer. “Once, my coworker got badly burned, and our manager told him ‘put mayonnaise on it, you’ll be good.’ McDonald’s needs to be held accountable…”

“In our first meeting, there were 50 workers in a room in New York City who held up their arms covered in burns and said ‘this is what it means to be a fast-food worker,’” said Kendall Fells, organizing director of the Fight for $15. “As this campaign has spread to cities across the country, it’s become painfully clear that unsafe conditions go hand in hand with the industry’s low wages.” 

The group claims that while McDonald’s closely monitors nearly every aspect of its franchisees’ business operations via regular inspections, it often ignores health and safety problems. Moreover, the group claimed, workers in corporate-owned stores report the same health and safety hazards as workers in franchised restaurants.

“It’s a problem that only McDonald’s can fix, and the time to fix it is now,” said Fells.

Four In Five Fast Food Workers Burned in the Past Year

According to a fast food worker safety survey conducted by Hart Research Associates and released March 16 by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, 79 percent of fast-food workers in the United States have been burned in the past year, most repeatedly.  A total of 87 percent of fast food workers have suffered some type of injury in the past year, including 78 percent who suffered multiple injuries. Other frequently cited injuries include:

  • Cut: 67 percent
  • Hurt while lifting or carrying items: 34 percent
  • Injured by a fall on a wet, slippery or oily floor: 23
  • Assaulted: 12 percent
  • Injured in another way: 29 percent

The survey found that 36 percent of workers report that first aid kits are missing, inaccessible or empty, and one-third of fast-food workers in the United States had been told to treat burns with condiments like mustard or mayonnaise rather than burn cream.

Workers who took the survey listed a variety of causes for the hazardous working conditions, including, in order of importance:

  • Too few employees to hand the workload safely.
  • Pressure from managers to work more quickly than the employees thought was safe.
  • Broken or damaged kitchen equipment.
  • Wet, slippery or oily floors.
  • Not enough training.
  • Missing or damaged PPE.

Workers plan to hold protests at McDonald’s stores across the country March 17 to demand that the company be held accountable for the widespread dangers at its stores.

The 19 cities where complaints were filed include Kansas City, Mo., Miramar, Fla., Nanuet, N.Y., New York, N.Y., New Orleans and Philadelphia.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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