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Employer and worker awareness of carbon monoxide dangers stressed
OSHA CITES TWO EMPLOYERS FOLLOWING JANUARY 3RD CARBON MONOXIDE OVEREXPOSURES AT CHELSEA, MASS., MEAT WHOLESALER
Following a January incident in which 13 employees of a Chelsea, Massachusetts, meat wholesaler were overcome by carbon monoxide from a borrowed forklift truck, the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited the wholesaler, James J. Derba, Inc., and the company which supplied the forklift, Big T&D Trucking, also of Chelsea, for alleged Serious and Other than Serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA has proposed combined penalties against the two employers totaling $22,600.
According to Brenda Gordon, OSHA area director for Suffolk County and Southeastern Massachusetts, the alleged violations encompass overexposure to carbon monoxide, lack of adequate engineering controls to reduce such exposure, the use of defective forklift trucks, lack of employee training in the safe operation of forklift trucks and pallet jacks, and failure to maintain required employee illness and injury logs.
On January 3rd, 2001, Derba employees were using a propane-powered forklift truck borrowed from Big T&D Trucking to help hang 200-300 pound beef sections in a meat hanging cooler. Carbon monoxide from the truck's exhaust built up to dangerous levels in the enclosed space of the unventilated cooler. As a result of this, the workers experienced symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning including headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, shortness of breath and loss of consciousness. All required medical attention.
"This was a close call, a textbook example of the dangers of carbon monoxide exposure that clearly illustrates why employers need to take effective steps to safeguard workers," said Gordon. "In this case, the employees were acutely exposed to excess levels of carbon monoxide that were potentially lethal. This forklift truck should not have been allowed to operate in this cooler."
Gordon explained that carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless poisonous gas produced by the incomplete burning of any material containing carbon, such as gasoline, natural gas, oil, propane, coal or wood. One of the most common sources of exposure in the workplace is the internal combustion engine.
"Carbon monoxide is a chemical asphyxiant," she said. "Exposure to it restricts the ability of the blood system to carry necessary oxygen to body tissues. Prolonged overexposure to carbon monoxide can result in death or permanent damage to those parts of the body which require a lot of oxygen, such as the heart and brain."
Among the means of reducing carbon monoxide hazards are providing adequate ventilation in the workplace and ensuring that fossil-fuel-powered equipment is in proper working order so as to minimize its carbon monoxide levels. Where appropriate ventilation in unavailable, effective controls -- for example, the use of an electric rather than a gas-powered vehicle -- should be implemented. Cold weather can increase carbon monoxide hazards since traditional warm weather sources of workplace ventilation -- windows, doors, vents, bays -- may be closed or sealed against low outside temperatures.
Gordon encouraged Bay State employers seeking more information about carbon monoxide or other workplace health and safety hazards to contact the OSHA area offices in Braintree, Methuen or Springfield, the free employer consultation service provided by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Division of Occupational Safety, private safety and health consultants or employers' insurance carriers. An OSHA fact sheet on carbon monoxide poisoning is available through its area offices or on line at www.osha.gov under the News Room link.
Specifically, the citations and proposed penalties against the two employers are:
James J. Derba, Inc. faces a total of $15,600 in fines for:
Two alleged Serious violations, with $12,600 in proposed penalties, for:
- excess levels of carbon monoxide in the forklift truck's exhaust; employees exposed to excess levels of carbon monoxide; and failure to adequately determine engineering controls to reduce carbon monoxide hazards in a location (the meat hanging cooler) where ventilation was unavailable;
- failure to train employees in the safe operations of powered pallet jacks and the forklift; failure to certify employee pallet jack and forklift training and evaluation.
One alleged Other than Serious violation, with a propose penalty of $3,000, for: failure to maintain an illness and injury log.
Big T&D Trucking faces $7,000 in fines for:
Two alleged Serious violations, with $5,000 in proposed penalties, for:
- failure to ensure that operators had been adequately trained and evaluated in the safe operation of forklift trucks; failure to certify operator training and evaluation;
- excess levels of carbon monoxide measured in the exhaust from two forklift trucks; two defective forklift trucks not removed from service for repairs.
One alleged Other than Serious violation, with a $2,000 penalty proposed, for: failure to maintain an illness and injury log.
A serious violation is defined by OSHA as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard. An other-than-serious violation is a condition which would probably not cause death or serious physical harm but would have a direct and immediate relationship to the safety and health of employees.
OSHA is empowered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to issue standards and rules requiring employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces and jobsites, and to assure through workplace inspections that those standards are followed.
James J. Derba, Inc. is located at One Griffin Way in Chelsea and employs 43 workers. Big T&D Trucking, located at 128 Eastern Avenue in Chelsea, employs 30 workers.
Each company has 15 working days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to either elect to comply with them, to request and participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
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