Safety and health newsletter for the Oregon construction industry

February 14, 2013


Engine exhaust – pick your poison

workers being transported underground by train

What you don't know can harm you.

In January, OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration issued a hazard alert on workplace exposure to diesel engine exhaust, targeted toward construction workers and others who work close to diesel-powered equipment.

Short-term exposure to high concentrations of diesel particulate matter can cause headaches and dizziness, and irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. Prolonged exposure can increase the risk of heart and lung diseases. In June 2012, the International Agency for Cancer Research classified diesel exhaust as a known cause of cancer.

This is also a good time to reiterate that a component of diesel exhaust – carbon monoxide – is produced in copious quantities by gas-powered and propane-powered engines. You do know that operating gas-powered or propane-powered equipment in poorly ventilated areas can have deadly consequences, right? (Think about gas-powered generators, welding equipment, power tools – and propane-powered forklifts.)

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health notes that carbon monoxide levels above 1,200 parts per million can cause death or irreversible health effects within 30 minutes.

If you're using tools or other equipment that produce carbon monoxide, test the air regularly in poorly ventilated areas and use mechanical ventilation when possible. An AC plug-in carbon monoxide detector is an inexpensive, effective way to monitor suspect areas. Of course, you'll follow the manufacturer's instructions when you're setting up and using a carbon monoxide detector. Right?


Reprinting, excerpting, or plagiarizing any part of this publication is fine with us!

But remember: the information in this newsletter is intended to highlight safe work practices, but it does not replace Oregon OSHA workplace safety and health rules.

For information about Oregon OSHA services and answers to technical questions, call (503) 378-3272 or toll-free within Oregon, (800) 922-2689.