Recently, a warehouse worker up north was discovered by co-workers, seizing and unconscious. Soon, several others were also sick.
Our North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers understand the problem was silent, invisible and odorless - carbon monoxide.
Thankfully in this case, all workers were pulled to safety and survived. But such incidents occur every year in workplaces throughout the country - particularly in winter months - and they can be fatal.
The reason we see this more during the colder season has to do with the fact that ventilation systems tend to be hampered by windows and doors that are closed tightly to conserve heat. The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration is warning all employers and employees to take heed of how incredibly dangerous this compound is, and take decisive action to prevent it.
Carbon monoxide can be generated from numerous sources - really anything that runs on combustion. So things like gas generators, compressors, welding equipment, furnaces, space heaters, motor vehicles, gas lanterns, pumps or power tools would be examples of some of the more common sources.
Just a few years ago, in February, two concrete contractors died inside Kiddie Aerospace and Defense after collapsing from carbon monoxide poisoning. Investigators later learned the two men had sealed off the room they were working in to cut concrete - with a gas-powered saw. The levels of carbon monoxide in that room were later found to be more than 50 times what officials consider to be safe.
Despite the devastating possible consequences, most workplaces in North Carolina aren't required to install carbon monoxide detectors - probably one of the most effective and cost efficient ways of reducing the risk. Schools don't even require the devices, though the North Carolina State Building Code Council two years ago adopted a requirement to have them installed in all new residences, as well as existing homes with fuel-fired appliances, or in those with permit-required renovation work and rental properties with fossil fuel burning heaters, appliances or fireplaces or that have an attached garage.
But even when installation of these devices isn't required, they can be an incredibly worthwhile investment. You don't want to wait until your workers are suffering from severe nausea, chest pain, vomiting, confusion, loss of consciousness - or worse - to discover you have a carbon monoxide problem.
In addition to detectors, companies also need to make sure they have an effective ventilation system in place - particularly in winter. Avoid using fuel-burning equipment in closed-in or partially-enclosed spaces.
Also, inform workers of what to do if they suspect they or their coworkers may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. This includes an action plan to get themselves and others (if it can be done safely) out immediately into fresh air, call 911 right away and administer CPR if an individual is not breathing.
While carbon monoxide poisoning can potentially happen to those in any occupation, OSHA considers the risk heightened for those in the following fields:
- Forklift operators;
- Toll booth attendants;
- Police Officers;
- Longshore workers;
- Taxi drivers;
- Garage mechanics;
- Diesel engine operators;
- Marine terminal workers;
- Customs inspectors.