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McDonalds Employee Loses Vision from Acid Burn

04th February 2011
By Dale Allen in Employment Law
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Fast food chain McDonalds were fined more than 20,000 by Wandsworth Council following an incident which left one of its employees partially blinded by an acid-based cleaner.

The company was fined by the council under safety at work laws and according to Wandsworth Council, this was the first successful prosecution against McDonalds in the UK resulting from an accident in the workplace.

The incident occured at the McDonalds restaurant on 20th June 2008 as an employee was attempting to unblock a drain. The staff member suffered severe burns to his face and eyes and has been left with around 55% vision in his left eye.

Staff at the restaurant had noticed that a washing machine had stopped working and an employee was tasked to unblock the drain. The restaurant bought a corrosive chemical drain cleaner in an attempt to remove the blockage. When the first attempt at using this sulphuric acid based cleaner failed to dislodge the blockage, the employee was given money by a manager to buy another bottle.

When the employee poured more of the chemical contents into the waste pipe, it blew back into his face and eyes. First aid was administered to the employee before he was transported to hospital by ambulance.

He sustained burns which following treatment, have left him with around 97% vision in his right eye and only about 55% in his left eye.

The council found that a CoSHH risk assessment had not be undertaken at the restaurant before the chemical was utilised. Cllr Sarah McDermott, environment spokesperson, stated "Their member of staff was given money by his managers to buy a very hazardous product. 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 such he has been left with a permanent and debilitating eye injury.

"We hope this case will serve as an important reminder to all employers that they must always take proper steps to ensure the safety of their employees in the workplace."

McDonalds Restaurants Ltd appeared in court on 11th November 2010 and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. They were fined 5000 and required to pat court costs of 15,744.

A spokesman for 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 we have taken steps to make sure this doesn't happen again."

CoSHH is the law that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health. The majority of companies use substances or a concoction of substances. Using any type of hazardous substance at work can place people's health at risk so it is essential that a CoSHH risk assessment is completed. A task based CoSHH risk assessment can protect your employees and your organisation.


Dale Allen delivers CoSHH compliance as one of the UK's leading compliance authorities. Find out more about how you can use his online COSHH365 CoSHH asssessment tool to produce compliant CoSHH assessments with the benefits of a managed Safety Data Sheet library.
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