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NIOSH warns against diesel exhaust exposure

Exposure to the diesel particulate matter found in diesel exhaust is a frequent hazard in workplaces across Missouri and the rest of the U.S. Diesel is used in trucks, earth-moving equipment, compressors and generators, to name a few examples; exposure to high concentrations of DPM, when short-term, leads to headaches, dizziness and severe irritation of the throat, nose and eyes.

OSHA has no permissible exposure limit for DPM but only for its components, such as carbon monoxide. Monitoring those components can, however, help in determining the presence of DE and measuring the effectiveness of controls meant to minimize DE exposure.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has released a fact sheet recommending several engineering and administrative controls. Under the former, employers could perform preventive maintenance on diesel engines, use biodiesel or some other special fuel and upgrade ventilation systems so that they remove emissions from indoor work areas.

They could also install a range of equipment from engine exhaust filters to diesel oxidation catalysts. Engineering controls reduce the risk for DE exposure, but a combination of them must often be used. Under administrative controls, employers could minimize traffic congestion in the work area by limiting the number of vehicles in a given area, limiting speed and using one-way travel routes. They should also prohibit prolonged idling of vehicles.

Exposure to dangerous chemicals can constitute an injury under workers' compensation law, but it could be harder to prove that the conditions victims suffer from are work-related. A lawyer might hire medical experts to build up the case, and he or she may assist with the appeal if the claim is denied. If successful, workers' comp benefits generally cover medical expenses and a portion of lost wages.

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