Environmental Hazards in the Fast-Food Industry

A new study by researchers Maria Rivera and Perla Valencia details a wide variety of environmental hazards on the job facing California fast-food workers – including overflowing sewage, dangerous smoke inhalation, and extreme heat – that threaten their health and wellbeing.

The study paints a bleak portrait of the state’s fast-food industry, uncovering stories of workers notifying their managers of chronic, dangerous working conditions that go ignored and unaddressed. The researchers noted that many workers experienced hazards related to indoor heat in particular and that this will only worsen with ongoing climate change.

New study finds fast food workers – employed by some of the world’s largest, most profitable brands – face environmental hazards at work.

Among the most frequent environmental hazards that the California fast-food workers surveyed in the study faced in their workplaces was exposure to sewage and drain backups. One worker reported that such sewer water back-ups “smell terrible, like human waste,” backing up in the pipes and overflowing into shared working areas. These backups have also caused floods and strong smells of sewage, resulting in headaches, nausea and potential exposure to sewage-borne pathogens.

The study, Environmental Hazards in the Fast Food Industry, is based on one-on-one interviews with workers and a review of reports filed with local and state public health agencies.

While other industries like garment manufacturing and agriculture have seen legislation aimed at reform, fast-food has not. Across California, workers and advocates alike are calling on lawmakers to advance AB 257 as a solution to address the dangerous working conditions that workers face on the job.

AB 257, the FAST Recovery Act, is landmark legislation that addresses the imbalance of power in the fast food industry and its rampant labor violations. AB 257 would guarantee fast food workers and fast food franchisees a seat at the table to help shape sector-wide workplace standards.