Worker standing in front of highway tunnelMany industries utilize vehicles, equipment, and heavy machinery that use diesel fuel. While this equipment and machinery can make workers lives easier because they do the heavy work in a significantly shorter period of time, they also release toxic fumes into the air, such as diesel exhaust and diesel particulate matter. This problem is so serious that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a safety alert warning employers and employees of the serious dangers of these hazardous substances.

Who Is at Risk of Diesel Exhaust and Diesel Particulate Matter Exposure?

Diesel particulate matter is a component of diesel exhaust that is a mixture of soot particles containing primarily ash, carbon, metallic abrasion particles, sulfates, and silicates. Workers in many industries can be exposed to it when they work with diesel vehicles, equipment, and heavy machinery. Even employees in the vicinity risk exposure. Workers who are in danger of being exposed to these toxic fumes include:

  • Miners
  • Heavy equipment operators of machinery such as cranes, bulldozers, and forklifts
  • Bridge workers
  • Tunnel workers
  • Railroad employees
  • Oil and gas workers
  • Farm workers
  • Long-shore workers
  • Mechanics working on autos, trucks, and buses
  • Bus drivers—including those driving school buses
  • Factory workers
  • Loading dock workers
  • Construction workers

Health Risk of Exposure to Diesel Exhaust and Diesel Particulate Matter

Both diesel exhaust and diesel particulate matter have been classified as known human carcinogens by the International Agency for Cancer Research. Exposure to these hazardous fumes can cause both short-term and long-term health consequences for employees working with vehicles and machinery using diesel fuel and those working in the vicinity of them. Common short-term problems include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat—sometimes severe enough to cause workers to become disabled

Unfortunately, workers exposed to these hazardous substances can also suffer long-term health problems that can cause them to be unable to perform their jobs, to suffer with chronic diseases, or die. These include the following:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Respiratory diseases or cardiorespiratory diseases
  • Lung cancer

How Can Employers Reduce Workers’ Exposure to Diesel Exhaust and Diesel Particulate Matter?

The best way workers can reduce their risk of exposure is to avoid diesel engines and their exhaust. Unfortunately for people in high-risk industries, this is not an option. However, employers can—and should—implement a plan to reduce workers’ exposure. Usually, a combination of these strategies is required:

  • Minimizing emissions of harmful substances by performing regular preventative maintenance and promptly making needed repairs
  • Installing exhaust filters in work locations where workers are around these fumes
  • Installing cleaner-burning engines—especially in older vehicles and machinery that may emit even more diesel exhaust
  • Installing diesel engine catalysts
  • Using special fuels or fuel additives that would reduce the emission of diesel exhaust and diesel particulate matter
  • Supplying equipment cabs with filtered air
  • Installing or upgrading main and auxiliary ventilation systems—like tailpipe or stack exhaust vents—that remove emissions in factories, garage maintenance shops, and other enclosed work areas

Changes in the ways workers perform their duties can also have an effect on the level of exposure to diesel fumes and toxins. A few of the ways this could be accomplished include:

  • Reducing vehicle and machinery speeds and utilizing one-way routes to minimize traffic congestion
  • Prohibiting or reducing the amount of time vehicles or heavy machinery are idling
  • Limiting diesel equipment, vehicles, and machinery operated in a given work area to ensure that the emissions do not exceed the capacity of the exhaust ventilation system
  • Designating areas where diesel-operated equipment, vehicles, and machinery are prohibited to provide work spaces where employees are not exposed to diesel fumes

As with many occupational illnesses, the long-term diseases a worker could develop from exposure to these hazardous substances may not become apparent for years or decades. This may make it more challenging to prove the worker’s illness is job-related, entitling him to workers’ compensation benefits.

If you developed a disease caused by exposure to diesel fumes or suffered another workplace injury, start an online chat or call me at 877-360-0183 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to learn about your legal options.

Manfred Ricciardelli
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Morristown Workers' Compensation Lawyer