Carbon monoxide poisoning is a real danger for many maritime workers. It’s a silent, invisible menace that can injure or kill a maritime worker with little warning. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur in any poorly ventilated space where carbon monoxide gasses are allowed to accumulate to toxic levels. Several types of maritime occupations expose workers to the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning on a regular basis.
What Is Carbon Monoxide and Why Is It Dangerous?
Carbon monoxide (CO) gas is a waste product created by the burning of natural gas, gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal, wood, and other fuels containing carbon. Internal combustion engines are one of the most common sources of carbon monoxide gas.
Carbon monoxide gas is very dangerous. It’s colorless, odorless, and tasteless – completely invisible to our human senses. The warning signs of carbon dioxide are subtle. Many victims of carbon monoxide poisoning don’t realize something’s wrong until it’s too late.
Exposure to carbon monoxide can make you seriously ill or even kill you. When inhaled in sufficient amounts, the carbon monoxide gas begins to displace the oxygen in your bloodstream, depriving your heart, brain, nervous system, lungs, and other body parts of vital oxygen.
Under OSHA, the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for carbon monoxide in maritime operations is 50 parts of CO gas per million parts of air averaged during an 8-hour time period. Maritime workers must be removed from exposure if CO concentrations in the atmosphere exceed 100 ppm.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
As the CO gas begins to starve the body of oxygen, victims can begin to experience the following symptoms:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Confusion and brain “fog”
- Chest pain
- Blurred vision
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- Loss of consciousness
Depending on the degree and length of exposure, carbon monoxide poisoning can result in:
- Impaired brain function, including memory loss, mood swings, and cognitive difficulties
- Permanent brain damage
- Heart damage and cardiac arrest
- Fetal death or miscarriage
When a person begins to experience the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, it’s important to get them out of the affected area and into the fresh air as soon as possible. Call 911 and/or notify a supervisor. If the victim is breathing, administer 100% oxygen using a tight-fitting mask. If they aren’t breathing, administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation. When attempting a rescue, take steps to ensure that you are not exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and become a victim yourself.
In some instances, the effects of CO poisoning can be reversed if medical attention is received in time. However, the oxygen deprivation caused by acute CO poisoning can result in permanent damage to the heart, brain, and other organs that depend on large amounts of oxygen.
All Maritime Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Is Preventable
The Jones Act and other maritime laws require maritime employers to maintain a safe working environment for their employees. This includes protecting them from the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. When they fail to do so, accidents can happen and workers can become injured or even killed.
The truth is, all CO poisoning is preventable. There are several steps maritime employers can take to eliminate the risks of on-the-job carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Regularly test the air quality in areas where carbon monoxide may be present, including confined spaces.
- Educate employees about the dangers of CO poisoning.
- Install and maintain CO detectors.
- Install a ventilation system that will effectively remove any carbon monoxide gas from a work area. Keep vents and flues clean and clear of debris and blockage.
- Keep generators and engines well-ventilated.
- Maintain any equipment and appliances that can produce CO gas in good working order.
- If possible, consider switching from gasoline-powered tools and equipment to equipment powered by electricity, batteries, or compressed air.
- Prohibit the use of gasoline-powered engines or tools in work areas that are poorly ventilated.
- Require employees to carry personal CO monitors with audible alarms.
Employees can do their part by being alert to ventilation problems, reporting situations where CO gas may accumulate, promptly reporting symptoms of CO poisoning, and alerting their physician that they may have been exposed to CO if they get sick.
Speak To A New Orleans Maritime Accident Injury Attorney
If you or a family member has been injured or killed due to an on-the-job carbon monoxide poisoning, it’s important to take immediate steps to protect your rights. This includes the right to seek compensation for the damages and losses resulting from an employer’s negligence or the unseaworthiness of a vessel.
The law firm of Lambert Zainey Smith & Soso has been protecting the rights of injured maritime workers since the 1970s. Our team of nationally recognized Louisiana maritime accident attorneys has recovered over a billion dollars in settlements for our clients. Contact us through our website or call us at (504) 581-1750 to schedule a free initial consultation.