As a health and safety professional with the city's Health Department, my job is to ensure workplaces are free from health and safety hazards, and that all employees are protected from these hazards at all times. Workplaces contain many types of health and safety hazards. As a result, employers are required to keep employees safe and protect them against these hazards. Investigating and identifying incidents which result from hazards is an important role of the employer, and the health and safety professional. Furthermore, a root cause analysis—a type of problem solving—are used by employers and outside professionals to identify and correct the root cause of a problem.
I was notified of a potential hazard at a local distribution warehouse where employees were complaining of dizziness and feeling sick. Upon arrival at the warehouse, I did not immediately identify what could have made the employees sick, although, I could smell exhaust from the forklifts around the shipping and receiving loading area. Upon further observation, I noticed other employees in the same general area, however they did not present any symptoms. As a result, I knew this required further investigation to identify the source of the problem.
To ensure the sources of the problem were identified and were contained, a plan of action would be established. The first action I took, was to talk with and interview the women who are feeling dizzy and sick. The interview consisted of questions such as; what they were doing—the location where they were performing their work—and when they started to feel ill. Upon review of their statements, I learned all four women were forklift operators. As a result, I focused my attention on the loading dock area. As mentioned earlier—when I first entered the warehouse—I could smell exhaust coming from the forklifts. At this point, I immediately reached for my gas monitor to measure the air quality. My immediate guess was that the carbon monoxide (CO) levels might be near or above the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 parts per million (ppm). Furthermore, I monitored the oxygen (O2) levels in the work area to ensure these levels were at or between the recommended 19.5 and 23.5 percent—a safe working atmosphere. Upon testing, the meter indicated oxygen levels were at 18 percent, and the carbon monoxide levels were at 40 ppm. I immediately understood why the four women were feeling dizzy and sick. They were being exposed to higher than normal amounts of carbon monoxide, and they were not receiving enough oxygen.
As I continued my walk-through of the loading dock and packing areas, I could smell a slight odor of ammonia. My concerns immediately pointed to the refrigeration system. "Many industrial refrigeration systems contain anhydrous ammonia, and safe exposure levels to ammonia are set at 25 ppm" ("Detecting Ammonia", 2004, para. 1). My suspicions led me to believe...