Avoid Toxic Gas Exposures

Two 2016 OSHA enforcement cases are object lessons in the importance of using the latest gas monitoring technology to protect workers.

Gas monitor manufacturers' newest products are worlds better than what the previous generations could offer. Area or individual monitors can detect multiple gases, be wirelessly linked so an alarm is relayed to co-workers or a central command center, and one new model offers a panic button and a man-down alarm. These versatile devices do more than ever before to keep workers safe on the job.

Only two months ago, on Oct. 19, OSHA's What's New page featured a release about an enforcement case involving a Wisconsin nursing home undergoing a renovation. Federal safety inspectors paid a call at the facility after five workers became ill from carbon monoxide exposure during the project in April 2016, and the agency reported the inspectors found that the employer also exposed those workers to asbestos hazards.

OSHA alleges that the company failed to monitor carbon monoxide exposure for workers inside an asbestos containment area and did not follow required procedures for safe handling of asbestos materials. The agency cited the Poynette, Wis.-based employer for four willful and nine serious health violations and issued proposed fines of $243,716 after finding the workers' exposure exceeded 50 parts per million over an eight hour time-weighted average and the company had not implemented engineering controls to reduce their exposure.

"No worker should ever become sick on the job or suffer long-term health issues because their employer failed to take the necessary precautions to protect them," said Ann Grevenkamp, OSHA's area director in Madison.

In its citations, OSHA alleged the company failed to:

  • Monitor work sites for carbon monoxide exposure
  • Train workers on carbon monoxide hazards
  • Provide a separate room for asbestos containment equipment
  • Create a decontamination area with a separate area for employees to shower and remove their work clothes before leaving the work site
  • Ensure employees did not consume beverages inside an asbestos containment area
  • Provide medical evaluation and fit testing for employees required to use respirators

Too many cases very much like this one occur each year in the United States. In April 2016, OSHA issued $226,310 in fines for a total of nine violations to a tank cleaning company after three workers overcome by a lack of oxygen had to be rescued from inside a rail tank car in New Orleans on Oct. 8, 2015. One worker died and the other two were hospitalized, according to the agency, after investigators concluded the company did no atmospheric testing inside the tank car prior to entry.

Two willful violations—failing to test the atmospheric conditions in a confined space before allowing workers to enter it and failing to evaluate a rescuer’s ability to respond in a timely manner and appropriately while rescuing entrants from a confined space—were filed in this case.

Worker Protections
If toxic gases are present, respiratory protection comes into play, and it bears repeating that respiratory protection continues to be one of the most-violated standards in OSHA’s arsenal. When Patrick Kapust, deputy director of OSHA's Directorate of Enforcement Programs, announced 2016’s preliminary Top 10, the most frequently cited safety violations for workplace safety violations, during the 2016 National Safety Congress & Expo in Anaheim, before an overflow crowd on the expo floor, they learned that it ranked fourth during that fiscal year.

"Every year the OSHA Top 10 serves as a guide for employers to address the biggest safety risks facing their employees," National Safety Council President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman said then. "We look forward to working with employers to reduce these incidents and ensure every workplace is on a journey to safety excellence."

The Top Ten for 2016 were:

  • Fall Protection, 6,929 violations
  • Hazard Communication, 5,677 violations
  • Scaffolds, 3,906 violations
  • Respiratory Protection, 3,585 violations
  • Lockout/Tagout, 3,414 violations
  • Powered Industrial Trucks, 2,860 violations
  • Ladders, 2,639 violations
  • Machine Guarding, 2,451 violations
  • Electrical Wiring, 1,940 violations
  • Electrical, General Requirements, 1,704 violations

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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