The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has begun an investigation into an incident at a Trader Joe's warehouse in Pennsylvania following a carbon monoxide leak that sent 18 workers to the hospital.
According to OSHA officials, nearly 200 workers had to be evacuated from the specialty grocer's facility early Sunday morning after firefighters responded to an automatic fire alarm. Battery malfunctions in five forklifts may have lead to the carbon monoxide leak. Those forklifts were subsequently removed from the facility, which was ventilated and deemed safe for employees to re-enter later that day, officials said.
"For the benefit of the employees, it was lucky that alarm went off," Ray Anthony, assistant chief of the East Allen Township Fire Department, told The Morning Call.
OSHA's website says carbon monoxide is an asphyxiant that "causes tissue hypoxia by preventing the blood from carrying sufficient oxygen," and lists acceptable exposure levels at 50 parts per million during an eight-hour shift. Anthony told the news source that readings reached as high as 55 parts per million, though in most facilities the typical level is zero.
Investigators have 6 months to complete their inquiry, and while it is not known if this incident could have been easily prevented, it does highlight the need for workforce training. Employees working in any factory or warehouse setting must be able to maintain their own safety as well as that of their fellow workers.
Recognizing signs of faulty equipment as well as physical indications of exposure to certain gases or liquid chemicals is essential in ensuring a safe environment. First aid training should also be a focal point for any manual labor-intensive facility.
Online learning solutions enable companies to properly educate their employees on these protocols and arm them with the skills necessary to protect themselves and others.
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