Toxic gases can kill and injure people as easily and as quickly as an armed intruder. These gases can harm or injure over a period of time, or instantaneously, depending on the amount of exposure. These silent, harmful gases are produced naturally and intentionally and subject unsuspecting people to harm or death in the workplace and even in their homes. With respect to the workforce, if a person works in the oil and gas industry, farming or processing of livestock they should be aware of the potential presence of toxic gases. If potential for toxic gases exists, there should be safety procedures and safety devices in place to limit or prevent exposure.
With respect to our homes, it is important to determine the likelihood of exposure. We must know the detection methods, and what can be done to limit or prevent exposure. The most common toxic gases are hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and methane.
Hydrogen sulfide is commonly called sewer gas or stink damp because of its rotten egg smell. It’s a colorless, flammable and extremely hazardous gas. Hydrogen sulfide occurs naturally in crude petroleum, natural gas, volcanic gases and hot springs. It can also result from bacterial breakdown of organic matter. At high concentrations, the ability to smell the gas can be completely lost in an instant. Just a few breaths of air containing high levels of hydrogen sulfide can cause death.
Our firm has handled cases in the past involving hydrogen sulfide exposures. One such case was at an oil and gas facility. Currently, we have a case going to trial in March involving an exposure to hydrogen sulfide from a poultry delivery truck. The exposures in one of the cases resulted in the death of the first exposed individual and respiratory problems to others attempting to save their fallen co-employee.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. Like hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide is impossible to see and taste. Unlike hydrogen sulfide, however, carbon monoxide does not have a smell at any level of concentration. In low concentrations, Carbon Monoxide causes flu-like symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue. The gas is fatal at very high concentrations. Carbon monoxide originates from unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, leaking chimneys and furnaces, gas stoves, generators and other gasoline powered equipment. It can also derive from tobacco smoke. Our firm has handled several cases in the past involving carbon monoxide exposure.
Methane, like hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide, is colorless. Similar to carbon monoxide, methane is odorless. In commercial natural gas production, trace amounts of smelly organic sulfur is added to give the gas a detectable smell. Methane is the principal component of natural gas and can be produced by the anaerobic bacterial decomposition of plant and animal matter. Methane is not toxic when inhaled, but it can cause suffocation by reducing the concentration of oxygen inhaled. The principal use of methane is fuel and an undetected gas leak could result in an explosion or asphyxiation. Our firm is currently handling a case involving a methane exposure which caused or contributed to the death of the exposed individual.
In the workplace, strict compliance with the employer’s safety protocol dealing with toxic gases is highly recommended. Safety can be improved by focusing on detection procedures in place and appropriate use of equipment designed to limit or prevent inhalation of toxic gases. Industries that engage in the creation of toxic gases, as well as industries where these toxic gases are the byproduct of a process, should inform their employees of the risks and prepare them to deal with an exposure. OSHA mandates specific procedures, training and safety equipment for these industries.
In our homes, it’s important to ensure that heaters, fireplaces, generators or any equipment that create toxic gases are properly maintained and used properly. Damaged home heating devices, as well as devices improperly used, can injure or kill an entire family while they sleep. When dealing with toxic gases, knowledge is power. The inability to see and sometimes smell the presence of toxic gases can be fatal. The families we have represented have first-hand knowledge of the consequences of failing to deal with these threats properly whether in the workplace or at home.
If you need additional information or have questions concerning this subject, contact Kendall Dunson at 800-898-2034 or by email at Kendall.Dunson@beasleyallen.com. Kendall has successfully handled a number of cases involving toxic gases.
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