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Diesel Presents a Hazard to Massachusetts Workers

This year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a hazard alert related to diesel exhaust and diesel particulate matter (DPM). Diesel engines power a broad range of vehicles used in Massachusetts workplaces, including vehicles used to lug heavy equipment and vehicles used in transportation. Diesel is also found in construction work, bridge and tunnel work, railroads, oil and gas industries, agriculture, and manufacturing. However, it is not only workers in these industries who are exposed; diesel engines are also used in delivery trucks and school buses.

Diesel exhaust contains DPM, a mixture of soot particles with a carbon core and other substances attached to their surfaces including ash, sulfates, silicates, and metallic abrasion particles. Unless DPM is carefully handled, it can be dangerous to your health.

Even short-term exposure to diesel exhaust and DPM can lead to headaches, dizziness, and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. Long-term exposure to diesel exhaust and DPM leads to increased risk of diseases related to cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary systems, as well as lung cancer. Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen.

Employers can protect workers from these health problems by minimizing their exposure to diesel with engineering controls. This means employers should perform routine maintenance in order to reduce emissions, install exhaust filters for all engines, install engines that burn cleaner, install diesel oxidation catalysts, utilize special fuels or fuels additives such as biodiesel, and provide filtered air for the cab areas of equipment and machines.

Employers can also make changes through administrative controls—ways in which tasks are done to reduce or limit a hazard. Some examples of administrative controls offered by OSHA are limiting speeds, prohibiting idling of vehicles, using one-way travel routes, and designating areas that are off-limits to diesel exhaust and DPM.

OSHA doesn’t have a permissible exposure limit for DPM, but does for other diesel exhaust components. If these other components are monitored, they may provide a sense of the amount of diesel exhaust being released.

If you are a miner around diesel fumes, your workplace is covered not by OSHA, but by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). MSHA enforces standards related to diesel in underground metal mines and underground coal mines. Under MSHA, a miner should not be exposed to more than 160 micrograms per cubic meter of total carbon as measure in an 8-hour time-weighted average.

A worker’s proximity to major traffic corridors can also give an indication of DPM levels on the job and offer some sense of whether he or she is at risk of developing asthma or lung cancer. In a 2007 study published in Health and Place, researchers used hot spot analysis and found that areas in Massachusetts containing major highway corridors suffered from higher rates of DPM exposure, lung cancer, and asthma incidence than those areas that did not contain such corridors. The researchers also found that the Boston metro region was an area of particular concern in terms of DPM exposure.

If you or a loved one experiences injuries related to diesel exhaust or DPM in the workplace, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for resulting injuries or illnesses. We can help you resolve the legal issues that arise in this context so that you can rest and recover. If you are concerned about your employer’s workers’ compensation coverage, ask the experienced Massachusetts worker’s compensation attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates what you should do. Call us at 617-367-0880 or contact us via our online form.

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