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Canary in the Coal Mine: Professions Prone to Carbon Monoxide Exposure

by | Sep 2, 2021 | Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Canary in the Coal Mine: Professions Prone to Carbon Monoxide ExposureIn the early 1900s, miners carried canary birds into the mines with them as poison testers. At the time, no available instruments could detect carbon monoxide (CO) – a lethal, tasteless, odorless, invisible, flammable gas. However, if the canary stopped singing or perished from CO exposure, miners knew to evacuate. Canaries have since become ingrained in mining culture, even though more sophisticated technology has replaced them as CO detectors. Unfortunately, the same threat of CO in the workplace remains.

Carbon monoxide is a naturally occurring gas that also comes from burning carbonaceous fuels such as wood, charcoal, oil, and propane. Inhaling too much causes CO poisoning, a serious medical emergency that can lead to debilitation or death. Certain professions and places – usually due to their proximity to burning fuels – are more likely to put people around high concentrations of CO or sublethal concentrations for extended time.

Some professionals at higher risk for CO poisoning include:

  • Airport crews
  • Boat and dock crews
  • Blast furnace operators
  • Commercial drivers
  • Crane operators
  • Coal miners
  • Coke oven operators
  • Construction workers
  • Firefighters
  • Forge operators
  • Industrial workers who recycle CO to use as fuel
  • Kiln operators
  • Mechanics
  • Metal oxide reducers
  • Oil, gas, and refinery workers
  • Operators of gas-powered engines (chainsaws, forklifts, bobcats)
  • People in laboratories using chemical CO or synthesizing organic compounds
  • People who work with methylene chloride (found in industrial paint strippers and solvents, metabolized by the body into CO)
  • Police officers
  • Pilots of piston-powered aircraft
  • Pulp and paper manufacturers
  • Taxi drivers
  • Toll booth and parking garage attendants
  • Warehouse workers
  • Welders

Ultimately, these professions are more likely to expose people to CO, thus increasing the risks of both acute and chronic CO poisoning.

Carbon monoxide causes the most workplace poisoning emergencies each year. Accidental exposure from combustion byproducts, especially in enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces, triggers a cascade of worsening, ambiguous symptoms that can lead to serious health problems later. Carbon monoxide’s undetectable profile and assassin-like potency threaten workers, making it a major concern to safety authorities.

CO exposure in a profession is most often linked to CO saturation in the work environment, but you have a right to a safe workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a permissible exposure limit (PEL) for CO. Learn the risk of CO exposure in your profession, and ensure that your employer adheres to appropriate air quality standards. You can confidentially report a safety concern to OSHA. However, OSHA cannot get you the compensation you deserve after a severe CO poisoning in your workplace.

If you or a loved one has been affected by CO poisoning, you may be entitled to compensation. The carbon monoxide lawyers at the Wyatt Law Firm have the experience and expertise to litigate these complicated cases. The legal community knows us by our results, and our clients know us by our steadfastness.

To learn more about how a knowledgeable San Antonio carbon monoxide poisoning lawyer can help you—and for a free case evaluation and legal consultation—please give us a call today at (210) 340-5550 or contact us online for more information.

Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

One of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning is that the symptoms of the illness are often very ambiguous. In other words, the symptoms can be similar to those of the common cold and other illnesses. Such symptoms may include dizziness, weakness, and shortness of breath, among others. Nevertheless, if you are employed in a high-risk profession like one of those mentioned above, and you think you might be the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning, you must err on the safe side and seek medical care.

Some signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • A dull headache
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty breathing deeply
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

Many of these symptoms can seem flu-like, which can prevent people from connecting the symptoms with carbon monoxide exposure. This can lead to continued exposure and worsening symptoms over time. As you are repeatedly exposed to non-fatal amounts of carbon monoxide, you can have chronic symptoms that might alleviate somewhat when you leave the area where the exposure occurs.

The most concerning symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning is loss of consciousness. When someone suffers exposure and loses consciousness, they do not have a chance to notice that something is wrong and escape the situation. Instead, these situations regularly end in fatality.

If a mine worker notices signs of possible CO exposure, they should seek a medical evaluation as soon as possible. There are tests that medical professionals can conduct to determine exposure levels, as well as treatment that can aim to limit the long-term effects of exposure.

If workers notice that a coworker is acting unusually or losing consciousness, they should make sure that they extricate the affected individual and themselves from the area. Then, they should ensure they call for appropriate medical help.

No matter what the situation might be, it is critical to get a medical diagnosis of your carbon monoxide poisoning and its effects.

This is important for different reasons:

  • Prolonged exposure without treatment can result in permanent brain damage, life-threatening cardiac damage and complications, miscarriage or fetal death, or death of the exposed victim.
  • The sooner you receive treatment, the greater chance there might be for a full recovery over time.
  • Having a diagnosis of your exposure is necessary to later seek the compensation you deserve in a legal claim.

Once you have a diagnosis and receive the treatment you need, you should begin learning about your legal rights.

What Should You Do After Exposure to Carbon Monoxide While Working?

When a doctor determines that you suffered carbon monoxide poisoning and you believe the exposure happened at work, you should immediately report your suspicions to your employer. You might have to fill out a report or other human resources forms, as your employer might be preparing for a workers’ compensation claim.

You should make sure that you keep up with all recommended treatments and attend all follow-up appointments. This demonstrates that you are doing your best to mitigate the effects of the poisoning and taking your health seriously.

Finally, you should contact an experienced carbon monoxide poisoning attorney to discuss your legal options. While your employer might seem willing to help with the workers’ comp process, there could be additional avenues for financial relief or additional action required outside the workers’ compensation process.

Workers’ Compensation vs. Carbon Monoxide Injury Claims

Texas does not have a traditional workers’ compensation system that requires all private employers to carry coverage for injured workers. As a result, your employer might not even have workers’ compensation coverage. This is something that you should determine as soon as you know you have a workplace injury, and our law firm can help you plot the best way to proceed.

No Workers’ Compensation Coverage

If your employer does not have workers’ comp coverage, you can file a personal injury claim seeking damages for your poisoning-related losses against the company.

You would need to show that:

  • Your employer negligently exposed you to carbon monoxide
  • You suffered injuries and losses as a result

For the first element, our law firm can use our extensive resources and network of experts to determine that the carbon monoxide exposure happened at your workplace or job site. The good news is that in such situations, your employer will not be able to claim that you assumed the risk by working in that profession or many other legal defenses. This is the consequence of choosing not to carry workers’ compensation coverage in Texas.

Even though your employer cannot present many defenses, their insurer can still try to challenge your claim. They might allege that your exposure happened at home or in another location you visit often. You want a San Antonio carbon monoxide lawyer working to prove your claim and address any challenges by the insurer.

The second part of your claim involves proving your injuries. This is why we discussed earlier the importance of seeking immediate medical attention. You can present your diagnosis and treatment records to show the injuries you suffered and their effects.

Once you prove your claim, you need to demonstrate the compensation you deserve to receive.

You can seek financial recovery for all financial and intangible losses stemming from your carbon monoxide poisoning, such as:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past lost wages and future lost earnings
  • Pain and suffering
  • Long-term brain damage or cardiac or respiratory complications

You want an experienced carbon monoxide attorney to calculate your losses, so you do not accept less than you deserve from your employer’s insurance company.

With Workers’ Compensation Coverage

Even if you have workers’ compensation coverage through your employer, you should still explore the possibility of a third-party injury claim with an experienced attorney. A workers’ comp claim can result in limited benefits, including medical treatment and partial lost wages. The benefit limitations are in exchange for being able to file a no-fault claim.

Even a successful workers’ compensation claim can leave you with many losses uncompensated. This is why you should determine whether other sources of liability could help you become whole financially. This involves identifying whether a third party (not associated with your employer) was negligent and caused your carbon monoxide exposure.

If you are working on a job site, and the owner of the property failed to properly detect carbon monoxide, you can hold that owner liable for your injuries and losses. The same goes for the maker of a faulty carbon monoxide detector that failed to warn you of the danger you faced.

If you pursue a third-party claim, it can supplement the benefits you receive from workers’ compensation. This is why you always want the right attorney reviewing all of your legal options following carbon monoxide poisoning in San Antonio.

Recovering for Permanent Effects of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

In some instances, carbon monoxide poisoning can result in a permanent illness or health condition, such as chronic emphysema and breathing problems for many months or years down the road. When that is the case, and a victim will suffer from chronic problems and symptoms, they can seek compensation for the permanency of their condition.

You must show proof that you reached maximum medical improvement for your illness. Maximum medical improvement does not mean that you made a full recovery. Rather, it means that medical professionals do not expect you to get any better, and some effects will continue indefinitely.

If you believe that you suffered a permanent health condition due to carbon monoxide exposure, the experienced team of San Antonio carbon monoxide attorneys at the Wyatt Law Firm are ready to help. We regularly represent clients with permanent conditions, and we seek the full amount they deserve for their permanent health issues and injuries.

Wrongful Death Claims Following Fatal Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

While about 50,000 people need emergency treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning each year in the United States, at least 430 do not survive this type of poisoning. If your loved one died due to carbon monoxide poisoning on the job – or in any other situation – your family suffered a tragic loss. You may have suffered significant financial losses, too.

In this situation, your injured loved one can no longer file a claim to hold liable parties responsible for the carbon monoxide exposure and injuries. However, Texas law allows close family members of the deceased to recover losses on their behalf by filing a wrongful death claim.

This type of claim can come from one or more of the following family members:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Children (minors or adults, biological or adopted)
  • Parents

If none of these individuals files a claim, the personal representative of the estate can do so.

This type of claim seeks compensation for losses of the family members due to the death, such as:

  • The lost earning capacity of the deceased
  • A lost inheritance that the deceased might have passed on if they did not die early
  • Mental anguish and pain of the close family members
  • Lost support, services, maintenance, and care of the deceased
  • Lost love, comfort, and companionship

If you are in this position and are grieving the loss of a loved one due to carbon monoxide poisoning, you should discuss the matter with our legal team.

What Is the Role of a San Antonio Carbon Monoxide Attorney in My Case?

You might know that you suffered poisoning due to carbon monoxide poisoning at your work, but this is not enough for an insurance company to pay your claim. Instead, you need to follow the proper steps of the claim process and provide adequate evidence to support your claim. This is a more challenging – and often frustrating – process than many people realize.

Your focus should remain on your treatment and physical recovery, at least as much recovery as possible. The last thing you need is to learn about the legal process, identify your options, and pursue all avenues of compensation. You should leave this part of your case to our legal team.

We can:

  • Advise you whether you have a claim against your employer or another third-party claim, such as against the maker of a faulty CO detector
  • Gather evidence of liability for your carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Determine how much compensation you deserve for your past and future losses
  • File the necessary insurance claims
  • Review all insurance offers and negotiate a higher settlement amount when needed

If the insurance company does not offer enough to cover your losses, we can take your case to the next level. This involves filing a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. This can be a complex process, especially if other people also suffered poisoning from the same exposing circumstances.

Having an experienced litigator on your side shows an insurance company that you will not back down. Insurers often want to avoid litigation, so the right legal representation can lead to a favorable settlement without the need for filing a lawsuit. Discuss all of our services and how we handle carbon monoxide poisoning claims for miners and people working in other high-risk occupations.

Speak With Our San Antonio Carbon Monoxide Attorneys

paula a wyatt attorney wyatt law firm san antonio

Attorney, Paula A. Wyatt

If you believe that you suffered carbon monoxide exposure or poisoning, get the medical treatment that you need right away—and continue treating your injuries until you reach a level of maximum medical improvement. In addition, hire experienced legal counsel to represent you throughout your carbon monoxide poisoning case.

The skilled and compassionate team of attorneys at the Wyatt Law Firm can help you pursue the compensation that you deserve, and that will allow you to move on with your life. Our legal team can handle all aspects of your insurance claim or injury lawsuit, and our goal is to provide you with thorough and result-oriented legal representation that gets you full compensation for your injuries due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

For a free case evaluation and legal consultation with a knowledgeable San Antonio carbon monoxide poisoning lawyer, please give us a call today at (210) 340-5550 or contact us online for more information.

You have a story to tell, and we can make you heard. Let us fight for you.

Read more about carbon monoxide poisoning on our blog, or explore the extent of our practice on our website.


References

American Industrial Hygiene Association. (2019). AIHA Protecting Worker Health. Retrieved July 29, 2019, from https://www.aiha.org/

Communications Workers of America. (2017, December 22). Carbon Monoxide and the Workplace. Retrieved July 29, 2019, from https://cwa-union.org/national-issues/health-and-safety/health-and-safety-fact-sheets/carbon-monoxide-and-workplace

Cunha, J. P. (2018, October 22). 19 Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment (M. C. Stoppler, Ed.). Retrieved July 29, 2019, from https://www.emedicinehealth.com/carbon_monoxide_poisoning/article_em.htm#carbon_monoxide_poisoning_causes

Flachsbart, P. G. (2008). Exposure to Ambient and Microenvironmental Concentrations of Carbon Monoxide. In D. G. Penney (Ed.), Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (pp. 5-41). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

OSHA. (2012, April). Carbon Monoxide Poisoning [PDF]. OSHA Fact Sheet. Retrieved July 2, 2019, from https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/carbonmonoxide-factsheet.pdf