DC DPW Trash Collection Workers Exposed To Toxic Vapor

A Department of Public Works (DPW) trash collection crew was exposed to a toxic vapor today while working in Northeast Washington.  The three-person crew was decontaminated on the scene by the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services.  Although, two of the workers were transported to the hospital for additional treatment, the injuries they sustained were not life-threatening.  See WUSA¸ 2 Workers Possibly Exposed to Hazardous Substance (Aug. 27, 2012), http://www.wusa9.com/news/article/218619/373/2-Workers-Possibly-Exposed-To-Hazardous-Substance.

From the DPW press release “This was a preventable incident that has harmed three valuable employees,” said DPW Director William O. Howland, Jr.  “We urge District residents to bring their household hazardous waste to our monthly drop-off, held the first Saturday of each month, so that our crews, the residents’ families and the general public are not exposed to dangerous substances.”

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), millions of workers are exposed to solvents and other hazardous chemicals on a daily basis and the “hazards associated with solvent exposure include toxicity to the nervous system, reproductive damage, liver and kidney damage, respiratory impairment, cancer, and dermatitis”.  See OSHA, Solvents, http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/solvents/index.html.

Preventing health hazards for DPW employees does not just fall on the general public.  DPW and the District of Columbia is responsible for educating their employees about the risks of hazardous chemicals and the identities of potential hazardous chemicals through written hazard communication programs.  See OSHA, Chemical Hazard Communication – OSH A 3084 (1998), http://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3084.html. OSHA’s standard for hazard communications is located in 29 CFR § 1910.1200, 1915.99, 1917.28, 1918.90, and 1926.59 and applies to employers, and employees exposed to chemical hazards.

Unlike twenty five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia does not have a state-approved OHSA plan, and has not adopted OSHA standards that are identical to the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). See OSHA, Chemical Hazard Communication – OSH A 3084 (1998), http://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3084.html.

Perhaps it is time for the District to not only reassess, or implement its worker hazard communication programs,  but it is most certainly time for D.C, to adopt OHSA standards that are identical to the OSH Act.