The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration has issued a reminder to all employers regarding their responsibility to protect workers from potential carbon monoxide poisoning.
Our Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers know that this notice is especially raw for those in this city, less than two months after 43 elementary school children and six staff members were hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Poisoning from carbon monoxide, which is a clear, odorless gas, can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, weakness, confusion and chest pain. In many cases where the poison was not detected in time, people have fallen into a coma and suffered brain damage and even died.
Thankfully, no one was left seriously ill, but it highlights the importance of installing carbon monoxide detectors - even when it's not necessarily required by law, as was the case for the school.
This is especially critical given the fact that large swaths of our state are beginning to experience colder conditions - meaning doors, windows and other potential ventilation sources will be more typically closed.
OSHA referenced a recent case out of New England, in which a warehouse employee was discovered seizing and unconscious on the floor of the facility. It was later revealed the cause was carbon monoxide.
Federal officials say workers die every year in this country as a result of similar circumstances - especially when employees are using some type of fuel-burning equipment and/or tools in structures or spaces where there isn't enough ventilation. It's not isolated to these instances, of course. The gas can emanate from sources such as compressors, power tools, gas generators, space heaters, welding equipment and furnaces - really anything that requires combustion to operate.
Some of the employees deemed most at-risk include:
- Longshore workers;
- Diesel engine operators;
- Marine terminal workers;
- Forklift operators;
- Toll booth attendants;
- Customs inspectors;
- Taxi drivers;
- Police officers.
Of course, as the situation at Finch Elementary School shows, it can happen anywhere at any time.
One important thing employers can do is to increase education to help workers understand the signs of carbon monoxide and know what to do in the immediate aftermath. Employees should know that they need to immediately get the victim outside into fresh air. They should also immediately call 911 and attempt CPR if the person has stopped breathing.
Another that business leaders should make is to ensure effective ventilation in all work areas.
Appliances and equipment with the potential to produce carbon monoxide should be regularly maintained and in good working order.
If the business uses gas-powered equipment, employers might consider switching to battery or electric-powered tools instead. Gas-powered tools and engines should be off-limits in areas of the site that aren't well-ventilated.
Firms should also not overlook the value of carbon monoxide detectors with loud alarms. Even though most companies aren't required to do this, it's one of the best and most cost effective ways to immediately alert workers of danger.
Workers who have concerns about a lack of safety in this regard should discuss possible solutions with their employer. Workers also need to be mindful of situations where there is poor ventilation, especially where you have burning fuels. Anytime a worker begins to feel dizziness, fatigue or nausea, it should be immediately reported and treated seriously.
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