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Workplace injury caused by hydrocarbon exposure is often fatal

After yet another death of a worker in the oil industry, the Centers for Disease Control expressed its concern about the number of fatalities caused by hydrocarbon inhalation. The March 2014 death of a 51-year-old Colorado man was initially determined to have been caused by heart disease rather than a workplace injury. However, the CDC subsequently revealed that an investigation showed that his death was likely the result of exposure to toxic fumes.

The worker had to open the hatch of an oil tank to obtain a sample of the contents. He was likely overwhelmed by the toxic fumes and was subsequently found dead, hanging from his shirt that had caught on the catwalk when he evidently stumbled and fell. The CDC revealed that eight other workers in the oil industry in other states had lost their lives under comparable circumstances. The large number of people seeking employment in the oil fields underscores the need for proper training and the protection of workers.

The exposure levels of toxic vapors and gases emitted by many oil tanks have been found to be as much as four times the recommended safe concentration level. Because almost all the deaths occurred when workers were alone, and most of the deaths seemed unexplained, the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) initiated an investigation. From 2010 through 2014, nine deaths of workers were linked to activities around fuel tanks – three of those occurred in Colorado.

Exposure to high levels of hydrocarbon commonly causes respiratory depression, asphyxiation, hypoxia, arrhythmia and narcotic effects. The investigations brought about updated safety regulations that were issued by NIOSH that require systems that will enable the monitoring of fuel tanks to be done remotely. Furthermore, proper safety training, gas monitors and breathing apparatuses must be provided. When a worker died after suffering a workplace injury, the surviving family members are entitled to pursue financial relief to assist with end-of-life expenses. Death benefits provided by the Colorado workers' compensation insurance fund may ease their financial burden.

Source: hcn.org, "Hydrocarbon inhalation added to long list of oil & gas perils", Kindra McQuillan, Accessed on June 5, 2015

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