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FACEValue: Janitor using propane buffer killed by carbon monoxide

NIOSH's Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Report
Date of incident: Nov. 13, 2004

A 50-year-old janitor was found dead in an office building where he was cleaning floors with a propane-powered buffer. On the day of the incident, the victim – a temporary employee – was observed bringing the propane buffer into the building at about 12:30 p.m. It was estimated that it would take him 1 to 1 ½ hours to polish the floors. His wife called the employer at about 8 p.m. after she was unable to locate her husband. Approximately 30 minutes later, the employer arrived and found the victim unresponsive on the floor. The victim was about 6 feet from the buffer, which was still running in idle mode. No external doors or windows had been opened to allow ventilation. Emergency medical responders described the victim as extremely pink, especially in the head. After a blood test, the medical examiner declared the cause of death to be carbon monoxide poisoning.

To prevent future occurrences:

  • Propane-powered equipment used indoors should be replaced with electric-powered equipment. It is dangerous to use engines or other fuel-powered equipment indoors. Carbon monoxide is a leading cause of fatal poisonings, and using electric-powered floor buffers would eliminate the equipment as a source of carbon monoxide.
  • Employers should ensure a safe work environment for their employees, including temporary employees. The employer believed temporary workers were not his employees because they were leased through a temporary employment agency. However, a day-to-day supervisor is responsible for specific safety training, as well as maintaining a safe work environment.
  • Equipment should be properly maintained in a safe working condition. An inspection of the propane buffer used in this incident found that the air filter was clogged, which contributed to poor combustion and increased carbon monoxide emission.

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