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Spotlight on workers' health and safety at fast-food restaurants

Many Utica residents will recall the days when just about every teenager worked a fast-food job for a summer or two, or maybe picked up shifts throughout the school year as a way to save up some extra cash. Today, it's common for adults at just about any stage in life -- especially given the economy in recent years -- to work "flipping burgers" at a fast-food joint.

But as these restaurants have enjoyed a boom over the past decades and employ more and more Americans today, concerns about workplace safety at one prominent chain are also coming to light. (It's probably an understatement to call McDonalds a "prominent" fast-food chain, with over 14,000 locations in this country alone.) Recently, employees in 19 different cities have complained to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about health and safety conditions in the restaurants.

The employees note that McDonald's has not provided adequate protective equipment like gloves for handling cooking equipment while it's hot, not to mention the training for handling them safely. Some point to burns they have suffered from cooking grease pops and splatters. Others complain of slip and fall injuries on wet floors.

One advocate for McDonald's employees argues that these injuries are the result of the company's policies to cut costs by understaffing restaurants and pushing employees to work too fast. OSHA has already conducted a number of investigations in response to the complaints. In an interesting twist, however, the company is arguing that it is not responsible for these types of issues at its franchised restaurant locations, which most of the 14,000 are.

The complaints are part of a broader push to organize McDonald's employees, which will be interesting to observe. But in the meantime, restaurant employees have the legal right to pursue a workers' compensation claim. No restaurant workers who have suffered burns from grease or sprains or broken bones from falls should not put their care on hold for political debates over who is liable and who isn't.

Source: Utica Observer-Dispatch, "McDonald's workers detail burns, job hazards," Candice Choi, March 16, 2015

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