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Trucker died from in-cab carbon monoxide poisoning, investigators say

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A Washington State workplace safety group shared safety tips after investigating the death of a trucker from in-cab carbon monoxide poisoning.

On June 1, 2024, the Washington Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (WA FACE) released carbon monoxide safety recommendations for motor carriers after investigating the January 19, 2023, death of a trucker.

Officials say that a 61 year old truck driver suffered fatal carbon monoxide poisoning after he parked his truck at his employer’s terminal yard for about 24 hours and slept overnight in the truck’s sleeper berth while waiting for his next dispatch.

From WA FACE:

Around 9:30 a.m., he walked from his truck to the main terminal building. Another driver saw him struggling to open a door to the employee restroom and shower area. The driver helped him with the door but saw he was disoriented and having difficulty breathing, walking, and standing. The driver asked if he needed medical help, to which he nodded yes. The driver who came to assist then went to tell management about the emergency.

After calling 911, a manager and the driver returned to the restroom, but the ill driver had locked himself inside and refused to leave. After a few minutes, the driver agreed to open the door and go with them to the employee lounge. He complained of a headache and back pain, had very pale skin with flushed cheeks, and was sweating and struggling to breathe. First responders arrived and took him to the hospital, but he died shortly after. A toxicology report concluded the driver died from CO poisoning.

Investigators say that the carbon monoxide poisoning was likely caused by a single-burner butane cooking stove found in the truck.

The investigation into the death of the trucker led the group to issue several safety recommendations to reduce carbon monoxide poisoning risks.

WA FACE Employer Recommendations:

  • Install battery-powered CO detector alarms in truck cabs and sleeper berths. Use only detectors made for vehicles. Always follow the detector manufacturer’s installation, maintenance, and safety instructions.
  • Develop and enforce clearly written accident prevention program (APP) policies for CO poisoning prevention.

Policies should:

  • Prohibit use of butane, propane, and other fuel-burning cooking stoves and space heaters inside cabs, sleepers, and trailers. Fuel canisters can produce CO, a colorless, odorless, and tasteless toxic gas that can quickly, and without warning, cause brain and heart damage, unconsciousness, and suffocation.
    Require drivers whose CO alarm has activated to park and exit their truck immediately, get into fresh air, and have a repair shop tow and check their truck for CO leaks.
  • Call 911 if the driver feels poisoned.
  • Instruct drivers to avoid idling or parking near other trucks that are idling or using auxiliary power units (APUs) producing exhaust fumes. Such fumes can enter a truck even if windows and vents are closed.
  • Train and evaluate drivers’ knowledge about CO hazards, exposure sources, prevention methods, detector alarms, poisoning symptoms, and emergency responses.
  • Conduct periodic refresher training.
  • Perform regularly scheduled preventive maintenance checks and services on engine and bunk heater exhaust systems to ensure CO leaks are detected and repaired before the truck is returned to service
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