Mother of worker killed at McDonald's
wants case reopened

International Worker; 30th November 96

By Eileen Hyland

Four years ago on Monday October 12, 1992, Mark Hopkins was electrocuted while working at a McDonald's restaurant in Manchester's Arndale centre. McDonald's never admitted responsibility or liability and the Coroners Court recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Mark Hopkin's mother, Maureen, has now begun a campaign to reopen the case after receiving McDonald's internal reports that she says shed new light on the case, by revealing evidence that never came out at the inquest.

Mrs. Hopkins gained access to the internal report on Mark's death by McDonald's National Safety Officer Jill Barnes, dated November 4, 1992, in September 1995. She also has the Environmental Health and Safety Prohibition Order that was issued a week after the death.

Mark's death was put down to another employee, Robert Chapman, badly rewiring a plug on a fat-filtration machine without authorisation. Barnes' report says that "incorrect wiring of the plug" was the "primary cause of the accident". But it then details the events of the evening of October 12 and states, "In general terms (and there are exceptions) safety is not seen as being important at store level". Barnes quotes the Environmental Health Officers (EHO) report, Michael Shirkie, in which he says, "You (McDonald's) are contravening the Electricity at Work Act". According to the EHO report electrical faults in the kitchen included two broken panels covers and a cover was missing off the floor socket and two broken sockets on the grill. It spoke of "blatant criminal negligence" by the company or individuals. The report makes clear that when the machine was in use basic safety procedures were routinely breached because of the pressure to finish the cleaning up.

The facts

The McDonald's report notes the following facts:
1) The fat filtration machine was sited in a place where it was necessary to stretch electric cable across the kitchen area to plug it in. This meant pulling it taut and putting the cable and plug under stress.
2) The kitchen floor was covered in water.
3) The socket to the machine was damaged and a non-conductive safety handle was missing.
4) No one with first aid skills was on duty.
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It lists three "causes of concern" regarding the fat-filtration machine:
1) "The on/off switch and its resistance to shortening" (cooking fat).
2) "The position of the switch gear and its susceptibility to water".
3) "The type of cabling used and its resistance to shortening".


Although the filtering unit was tested in July 1992 no record was made and the cable and plug were not examined. On the machine itself the internal report states, "McDonald's have long recognised the filtering process to be hazardous because of the involvement of hot shortening". Yet this process was carried out without a trained first aider on the October 12 shift. The company only took the decision to fit bonded or moulded plugs to certain units and to fit circuit breakers to kitchen units after Mark's death.

An unrelated internal memorandum from Frank Frost dated February 17, 1992 notes that, "There have been several recent instances in our restaurants where members of staff have received severe shocks from faulty items of electrical equipment."

Another memo notes that on July 25, 1992, a female McDonald's worker in Harborne received an electrical shock while carrying out filtering and was taken to hospital.

The Prohibition Order issued days after Mark was killed, said: "You are contravening the Electricity at Work Act 1974 by using this machine in the wash-up area of your premises. Anyone using this machine in the wash-up area of your premises will result in receiving serious personal injury leading to electrocution."

"I won't rest until I get justice for Mark"

The International Worker spoke to Maureen Hopkins, Mark's mother.

Maureen Hopkins: Every evening after closing, the fat has to be filtered in a fat filtering machine. It needed an 8-9 inch insulated plastic handle, but this had been missing for three months. It had been reported but not replaced. The machine was used every day to clean the fryers. The fat was filtered through it and then water was passed through to wash it out.

Two weeks before Mark's death, Robert Chapman, who had been working there for several years, went to fix the machine because it had stopped. He unscrewed the plug to find that wires were hanging out. This was a regular occurrence, though this was officially denied in court as it was against company policy. The reason for this was that there was no socket in the room where the job had to be done, so the machine was plugged into a socket in the next room.

There was no attempt to tie the lead to the wall and staff were constantly tripping on it. As a result, there was always tension on the flex. It should not have been used in a water area without a circuit breaker. It was plugged into the wrong area.

Rob was always having to fix it and similar things. While he was on the floor fixing it, the manageress asked what he was doing and said, "Well get a move on then." The machine was used every day for the next two weeks before Mark's death.

On the night of Mark's death, Rob was using the filtering machine. He got a shock from it and turned it off, but it was still plugged in. Mark was the floor manager. He picked up the nozzle, which had no insulating handle because it had not been replaced and was thrown back with the force of the electric shock.

There was no first aider on duty, which there should be by law. Mark was lying on the floor in an inch deep pool of water. When the ambulance arrived, the ambulance man would not treat him there because of the water. He was taken to hospital but he had no chance. He was dead.

McDonald's Vice President, Peter Richards, from the North West Headquarters came to my house four days later with the Head of Personnel and said "It's the plug. Robert Chapman changed it. It's not our fault. It's him". That is all we ever saw of McDonald's. They never came to see us again except at the funeral.

The inquest was in March 1993 and found accidental death that it was due to Rob changing the plug. They had spent two weeks interviewing McDonald's, but they didn't even take the plug to court. The Environmental Health Officer Shirkie said that McDonald's had a good safety record! It was a farce from start to finish. They gave the machine back to McDonald's the next morning and it was never seen in the store again.

"Blatant criminal negligence"

A confidential internal McDonald's report by their National Safety Officer, Jill Barnes, was very critical of safety conditions and said that the EHO had spoken of "blatant criminal negligence". Safety procedures were routinely breached. There was a prohibition order sent to McDonald's stating anyone using the machine will receive serious personal injury leading to electrocution. Yet it was released to McDonald's 24 hours later. In my estimation, that machine should have been taken away and taken to pieces.

While they could not be sure that the equipment was faulty they found problems with the design. They have done seven recommendations on this type of machine since Mark was killed. One was that in the middle of the machine where the electrical cable was, the wires were fusing together.

The report identified other electrical faults in the kitchen. The filtration machine had two panel covers improperly replaced. A cover was missing off the floor socket. There were two broken sockets on the side of the grill.

The EHO report said, "You are contravening the Electricity at Work Act". The inspector said there was a need to educate staff in the use of the equipment and spoke of criminal negligence by the company. The EHO never interviewed all the staff, just Robert. They have all tried to blame him, but we were not having that. Anyway, he was a McDonald's employee. They are responsible.

Rob has never got over this. It was a nightmare for him. The Manchester Evening News wrote a front page headline, "Big Mac boss killed by workmate's plug repair". He was Mark's best friend and he still can't bear to be in the country at the time of Mark's death. He has to go abroad. I keep telling him that it is not his fault.

All the press say they will do a big article on Mark's death, but the Editor always turns it down because they don't want to lose the advertising. No one will say anything against McDonald's, because they are worse than Maxwell for writs.

There are no trade unions at McDonald's. We have had no help from them. We spoke to the Hazard Centre who are funded by the trade unions. We wanted addresses, a wreath for all those who died at work. They never wrote back. We organised a demo last year on the third anniversary of Mark's death outside McDonald's. There were no trade unions there and it was the same this year.

The EHO said McDonald's had a good record. They said it was their first death. It was a freak accident but someone else has been killed. In Australia, March 1996, Michael Ian Johnston was electrocuted by bare wires at the back of a cooker. He was only 19 and a university student. In February 1992, a McDonald's memo said that there had been several recent incidents where staff had received severe shocks through faulty electrical equipment. That was seven months before Mark was killed. Why didn't they act then? On July 25, three months before Mark's death, a crew member was carrying out filtering the same as Mark and received a shock. And they said it hadn't happened before.

We want to reopen the inquest. We want people to send us letters of support so we can send them to the coroner. I won't rest until I get justice for Mark. My son's been killed and they've just swept it under the carpet as if his life didn't matter. But I will never let them forget him. You've got to stand up for what is right. I want to fight for better working conditions for all McDonald's employees.

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