Restaurant Operations Expert Opines on Customer Injuries Caused by Chemical Fumes

Joseph O'Neill

Written by
— Updated on October 17, 2017

Restaurant Safety Expert WitnessThis case involves a man who suffered chemical burns to his lungs following exposure to fumes from a cleaning solution used by staff at a pizza restaurant. At the time of the incident in question, the man had gone to use the restroom at the restaurant, which was in the process of being cleaned by restaurant staff. Despite the fact that the bathroom was being cleaned, the staff member who was conducting the cleaning indicated that the man could use the bathroom. Shortly after using the bathroom the man began to experience tightness in his chest as well as difficulty breathing. It was later revealed that the employee had been using a mixture of bleach and ammonia to clean the bathroom facilities. The man suffered chemical burns to his lungs from the chloramine gas that was produced from this mixture of chemicals.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Do you use bleach and ammonia based cleaners simultaneously when cleaning your dining establishment, or establishments in which you've worked previously?

Expert Witness Response E-119352

I am an expert in this area, having operated and been responsible for overseeing many restaurant operations in my career. I am a professor at a top-ranked hotel and restaurant industry management school. This is a unique case and as such I would seek an understanding of which exact chemicals were used, in what combination, and what the restaurant’s training schedule was for use of these chemicals. I’d also want to understand the air-exchange rate of the restaurant’s HVAC system, as it should at least be 3 times per hour in volume. I am also curious as to why the restaurant staff were scrubbing the restaurant with a chemical during dining hours; that is NOT industry standard. Such cleaning is necessary, but is generally handled during closed hours in conjunction with open doors and windows for maximum ventilation: certainly not when a diner is sitting nearby. If these chemicals require more ventilation than is standard and the manufacturer fails to notify each restaurant or sells the product  without vetting the staff and training accordingly, this could be an even bigger issue.

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