As an attorney who has practiced in the field of Workers’ Compensation for more than 25 years, I have represented thousands of injured workers, spouses, and families of workers killed on the job. Sadly, many of these deaths and injuries were preventable.
I recently read a blog published by an attorney friend of mine from North Carolina involving carbon monoxide poisoning. I thought it was extremely timely as on December 30, 2014, New York State Governor Cuomo signed into law new legislation that requires every restaurant and commercial building in the state to install carbon monoxide detectors by June 2015. This law, known as Steven Nelson’s Law, was named in honor of Mr. Nelson, a Long Island restaurant manager killed on the job as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning from a malfunctioning water heater flue pipe in the basement of the restaurant. Just this week, two men were found dead in Long Island at a Holbrook auto detailing shop from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning. Every household should have a carbon monoxide detector, just as every house should have a smoke detector. Under the existing New York State law, every one- or two-family home, condominium and cooperative, and each unit of a multiple dwelling constructed or sold after July 30, 2002, must have a working carbon monoxide detector. This law regarding residential dwellings was passed in 2010 and called Amanda’s Law after a young girl who died after sleeping at a friend’s house where there was a clogged boiler vent. Restaurants and other commercial buildings were excluded prior to Steven Nelson’s Law. But not only is it important to have a CO detector, it’s equally as important to be sure it is working properly. Test it on a regular basis, along with your smoke detector, and be sure to replace the batteries once a year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that at least 430 people die each year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning (www.cdc.gov/features/copoisoning/). Winter is the most dangerous time of the year for carbon monoxide poisoning because of improperly used generators and heavy snow drifts that can clog heating vents.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that can severely damage the human body, and as noted above, in some cases can lead to death. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, vomiting, confusion, weakness, blurred vision and nausea. Extreme symptoms include severely impaired mental state, coordination loss, loss of breath, increased heart rate, chest pain, and loss of consciousness. Anyone experiencing CO poisoning symptoms should be removed from the enclosed environment and taken to a medical professional. Call your local authorities to make a report.
Be aware of CO sources in your home. Any gas-burning appliance such as a furnace, boiler, gas stove, water heater, fireplace or gas-powered tool can be a CO source. Make sure these types of appliances are serviced regularly to lower the risk of CO poisoning. Don’t put a gas generator in the house, garage, or outside your house near a window. Generators have the capability of producing CO levels several hundred times those found in normal automobile exhaust. The CDC recommends that generators should be used at least 20 feet away from your house in a properly ventilated area.
It is unfortunate, but typical, that many laws are enacted as a result of a tragedy. Death or injury by carbon monoxide poisoning is completely preventable. A simple device can save your life.
Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.
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