Saturday, January 24, 2004

Heart Attacks and Workplace Death

When I was working at OSHA, I received monthly copies of the "FAT-CAT" report, short for "Fatalities and Catastrophes." The fatalities always contained a number of "natural cause" deaths, usually heart attacks, that were never investigated by OSHA. I always wondered what one might find if one investigated them. For example, are there more "heart attacks" during hot weather that may actually have been heat-related? Did workers ever have heart attacks who might also have been working near toxic chemicals? Did anyone ever actually go out to the worksite to check out the circumstances?

I was reminded of workplace heart attack problem when I came across an this article about OSHA fining a company for the confined space death of Rodney Jones from hydrogen sulfide exposure in a unmonitored manhole last August. Manholes are notorious for confined space hazards -- hydrogen sulfide, methane or oxygen deprivation -- and OSHA has a confined space standard that requires monitoring, ventilation and an attendant to prevent such deaths.

I went back to read the original article about the incident. Jones' co-worker and friend Mike Radford climbed down to try to rescue him and was also overcome by the gas. Both were rescued and taken to a hospital where Jones died a couple of days later.
"His big ol' heart couldn't take it anymore," Radford said.

Radford said Jones suffered from heart attacks in the past, and that's what killed him Sunday night. He believes it was triggered by the poisonous gas.
Heart attack or workplace-related fatality? I'm not even sure how this was recorded by OSHA, but it's pretty clear that Rodney Jones would be alive today if the confined space standard had been followed.