CO2 Overexposure Costs Missouri Plant $570K - Worksite Medical
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very time you take a breath, you inhale oxygen and breath out carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide (CO2) naturally occurs in the air around us, making up approx. 0.04% of the earth’s atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide usually exists as a colorless, odorless, non-flammable gas, and considered minimally toxic when inhaled. With that said, CO2 overexposure can pose a grave danger to humans.

Now, a Missouri meat processing plant has received numerous citations, totaling more than $573K, for a number of violations, including CO2 overexposure.

Although most people picture it in its gaseous form, CO2 can also exist in a solid form, as dry ice.

In meat processing, dry ice has 2 major uses;

  1.  It can be used to stun livestock by a method called Controlled Atmospheric Stunning (CAS). CAS is a process designed to comply with humane handling and animal slaughter laws in North America. It’s deemed by many animal welfare experts as a more humane way to incapacitate animals, as opposed to various other methods.

  2. Dry ice is also used to keep meat products cold during transportation, and cool these products and equipment during processing.

In both cases, workers can suffer CO2 overexposure if proper precautions are not taken.

Let’s look at what went wrong in this case, and what they could have done differently to protect their workers.


Related Article: Fined By OSHA? Here’s What You Need To Do Next.


What Happened


Federal OSHA investigators have determined that despite knowing hazardous levels of carbon dioxide existed within their Missouri facility, the meat processing company did not put any employee monitoring program in place. Additionally, they failed to implement effective engineering controls to limit workers’ exposure to the hazardous gas, thus risking the health and lives of its workers.

In September 2022, after an OSHA inspection; CO2 readings showed that the company allowed its workers to risk CO2 overexposure, with levels ranging from 7,100 to 10,000 parts per million.

For comparison, this is nearly double OSHA’s permissible exposure level standard of 5,000 parts per million.

OSHA proposed $573,913 in penalties to the meat processing company after inspectors identified two willful, four repeated, and seven serious safety and health violations.

In addition to exposing workers to hazardous levels of CO2, federal inspectors also found the company exposed workers to other potentially dangerous hazards: slip, trip and fall hazards, failure to make sure required machine guarding was in place, and violation of electrical workplace safety standards.


Previous Citation


You know you shouldn’t treat the health and safety of your team lightly.

And yet, from previous inspections, it appears this company did just that, repeatedly failing to protect their workers from CO2 overexposure and safety standards throughout their operations.

It’s an attitude and trend authorities notice.

From March 2020 – Feb 2023, they’ve been cited seven times for endangering the lives of their workers. In fact, OSHA cited the company in November 2020 for allowing the same hazard to exist.

In all, OSHA has issued the company citations for 35 violations in five previous inspections from its 2020 opening through May 2022. And, an additional inspection remains open at the processing plant.


Related Article: Poultry Plant Held in Contempt over Unpaid OSHA Fines


Effects of CO2 Overexposure


Although not necessarily toxic on its own, CO2 overexposure nonetheless presents dangers, and, in extreme cases, even death.

In high levels, CO2 acts like a simple asphyxiant in the air, because it displaces oxygen (O2). This potentially leads to breathing difficulty, and ultimately, death.

CO2 overexposure can cause: headache, dizziness, breathing difficulty, tremors, fatigue, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, confusion, convulsions, coma, suffocation, and death.

And, although long-term health effects are mostly unknown, symptoms of CO2 overexposure are known to show up months or years later.


Next Steps


In accordance with federal law, the company has 15 business days from the date of receiving these citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


OSHA Standards for CO2


OSHA uses the time-weighted average (TWA) to set exposure limits for CO2.

As such, it’s important to know which standards are required for your industry or routine. Information can be collected through your city’s fire marshal, building inspector, or with specialized CO2 detection equipment.

  • Workers should not be exposed to CO2 levels higher than 5,000 parts per million (ppm) over an 8-hour work day, which is about 0.5% of CO2 in the air.
  • If exposure is short term, the limit is set to no more than 30,000 ppm for the duration of 10 minutes.

For a detailed breakdown of OSHA’s CO2 sheet, you can learn more right here.


Protecting Your Workers from Respiratory Dangers


Respiratory protection in the workplace is of utmost importance, for both you and your team.

Compliance with the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard could prevent hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses annually. Here’s a quick breakdown what you’ll need to keep in mind when following OSHA’s extensive guidelines for respirator use in the workplace:

  • Medical evaluations of CSHOs required to use respirators;
  • Fit testing procedures for tight-fitting respirators;
  • Use of respirators in routine and reasonably foreseeable emergency escape situations;
  • Procedures and schedules for cleaning, disinfecting, storing, inspecting, repairing, and otherwise maintaining respirators;
  • Procedures to ensure adequate air quality, quantity and flow of breathing air for self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA);
  • Training employees in the respiratory hazards to which they are potentially exposed;
  • Training employees in the proper use of respirators, including putting on and removing them, any limitations on their use, and maintenance procedures; and
  • Procedures for regularly evaluating the effectiveness of your program


Key Takeaways


Carbon dioxide levels can be monitored and over-exposure prevented. With proper precautions, training, and protective equipment, you can protect the lives of your workers and save yourself from avoidable OSHA fines.

Every operation is different, and present their own unique challenges and dangers. However, there’s also a solution available for every situation. Be sure to follow any and all guidelines applicable for your workers, and keep your team safe.

***   About Worksite Medical


In most cases, OSHA requires medical surveillance testing, and at no cost to employees. Worksite Medical makes that program easier with mobile medical testing.

We conduct on-site respirator fit tests, as well as audiometric exams, pulmonary function tests and heavy metal lab work, right on your job site. We also keep accurate, easy-to-access medical records for your convenience.

You’ll keep your employees at work, and stay ahead of OSHA inspections.