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If you have been subject to diesel exhaust exposure at work, you may be in danger of experiencing serious health problems. Emitted by the engines of trucks, buses, cars powered by diesel as well as by certain machines and equipment that use diesel for power, diesel exhaust is a dangerous substance made up of gases and miniscule particles. A number of toxins are present in this mixture, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, benzene, formaldehyde, sulfuric acid and trace metals, such as arsenic and cadmium, to name a few. Some of these substances are known carcinogens, meaning they cause cancer. Although people are exposed to diesel exhaust on a somewhat regular basis due to traffic pollution, people in certain occupations are at a greater risk of developing health problems from acute and/or prolonged exposure. Some of the symptoms of short-term exposure include eye, throat and lung irritation, headache, lightheadedness, nausea, coughing and fatigue. Allergies and asthma may also be aggravated by acute exposure for a short period of time. Long-term exposure is far more harmful, leading to chronic cough, worsening of lung disorders such as asthma, heart disease, worsening of heart conditions and lung cancer. If you work with or around diesel-powered vehicles and equipment on a regular basis, it is important to make sure you are protected from exposure. A good way to start is by testing the air. A laboratory test of an air sample where you work may reveal whether diesel exhaust gases and particulates are in the air and in what levels. It is also important to inform your doctor of your diesel exhaust exposure, as this will help him or her be aware of certain respiratory disorders or other health issues to look for in your regular exams. There are special breathing tests that can be performed as well, such as before and after work, to determine how the air you breathe may be impacting your respiratory system. These tests are particularly helpful in people already suffering from asthma or other breathing problems.

Regulation of Diesel Exhaust Exposure is Virtually Non-Existent

It is unfortunate that the only U.S. occupational regulation of diesel exhaust exposure applies to mines, as workers in other fields may be at risk of exposure as well. There are workplace limits, however, on some of the substances found in diesel exhaust, such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Even without state or federal regulation of diesel exhaust, there are steps that employers can take to protect employees from exposure:
  • Perform routine maintenance on diesel engines to limit emissions;
  • Replace older engines with newer ones, which tend to produce less exhaust;
  • Enforce rules prohibiting running diesel engines indoors;
  • Reduce idling of diesel-powered vehicles and equipment;
  • Regularly monitor air conditions to keep abreast of diesel exhaust levels;
  • Reposition diesel exhaust stacks away from where workers are present; and
  • Move workers away from places where exhaust is emitted, if possible.

What You Can Do

If you begin experiencing serious symptoms of diesel exhaust exposure, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue, difficulty breathing, headache or nausea, it is important to seek emergency medical care. Go to the closest emergency room or department for immediate treatment, informing them of the type and duration of exposure. Once you have received emergency medical care, inform your employer. Your employer may direct you to an occupational health clinic, specifically meant to help workers injured on the job. Be sure to inform your employer, in writing, of the matter so you can pursue a workers' compensation claim. Pursuing workers' comp benefits for diesel exhaust exposure can be a complex, arduous process, but with an attorney from Napoli Shkolnik PLLC by your side, you have a better chance of securing fair compensation in a timely manner. To learn more, contact a New York workers' compensation attorney at our office.

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