Carbon Monoxide: Workplace Hazard
June 12, 2020
Exposure to carbon monoxide can be deadly. Although one of the most frequently used examples of carbon monoxide poisoning is running a motor vehicle engine indoors, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that workplace exposure to CO (carbon monoxide) is actually quite common, though preventable. To mitigate known risk factors, employers need to implement effective safety and health control plans as required by federal and state law.
Exposure to carbon monoxide is so dangerous because it prevents the blood from carrying oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs. As a colorless, odorless, and highly toxic gas, it can be difficult to detect CO exposure before it is too late. While there are carbon monoxide detectors, they are only useful in determining whether a dangerous amount of gas is already present in the air. But, even before it gets to that point there are numerous steps employers can take to protect workers from recognizable and known hazards that create unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide exposure in the workplace.
Which Workers are at Risk?
Carbon monoxide is a major industrial risk factor for certain workers more than for others. According to OSHA, some of the most at-risk occupations are:
- Garage mechanics
- Longshore workers
- Firefighters and police officers
- Taxi drivers
- Forklift operators
- Tool booth and tunnel attendants
- Carbon-black makers, organic chemical synthesizers, and metal oxide reducers
- Customs inspectors
While all employers need to take steps to mitigate the risks associated with carbon monoxide exposure, employers in particularly high-risk industries need to take extra precautions to guard workers.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Exposure
Carbon monoxide can kill a person in just minutes. The body stops being able to supply oxygen to vital organs like the brain, lungs, and heart. In the most tragic of cases, CO poisoning causes someone to lose consciousness and suffocate. Some of the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure or acute poisoning are tightness across the chest, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and drowsiness. In some situations, like during a prolonged or high level of exposure, victims may experience more severe symptoms like vomiting, confusion, muscle weakness, and loss of consciousness. Although it is possible to prevent mortality by detecting CO poisoning quickly, some individuals still experience an array of permanent and life-altering consequences, such as:
- Significant reproductive risks, such as low birth weight, behavioral problems, and stillbirths that can occur up to 1 month after giving birth
- Brain damage (e.g. difficulty concentrating and memory problems)
- Vision and/or hearing loss
- Parkinsonism, which is a condition marked by stiffness, tremors, and slow movement
- Coronary heart disease and heart attacks
If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and can do so without putting yourself at risk, move the victim to a ventilated or open area with fresh air and call 911 to request emergency medical attention.
How Employers Can Protect Workers from Carbon Monoxide
Employers are obligated to provide workplaces that are free from recognizable hazards. This means that the law demands employers take certain steps to protect workers from known hazards like carbon monoxide poisonining. To reduce these dangers, OSHA requires employers to implement safety and health programs and effective control methods. For example, employers must install ventilation systems and keep them in good working order to remove carbon monoxide from work areas. They also need to regularly inspect and maintain all appliances and equipment that produce CO. OSHA’s carbon monoxide standard also necessitates regular air tests in areas that carbon monoxide may be present in, in addition to prohibiting the use of gas-powered engines or tools in poorly ventilated workspaces.
Even though every worker has the right to a workplace and conditions that do not pose risks of serious harm, some employers fail to cultivate a safety culture and do not prioritize the health of employees. If you were a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning because of workplace safety failures and the negligence of an employer, someone at our firm can help. To speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney, contact a representative online now.
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