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Obsolete decompression tables threaten tunnel workers

Connecticut construction workers who work in tunnels with compressed air and high pressure levels may suffer from various health complications. Decompression-induced illness may include nitrogen narcosis, known as the “bends,” bone lesions and joint pain. More serious ailments that affect critical organs, such as the spinal cord and brain, may also result. An individual that suffers from an occupational illness resulting from executing a job in an unsafe environment is deserving of compensation under workers’ compensation laws.

According to government researchers, the decompression table, established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1971 to protect workers from the effects of high-pressure environments, has become obsolete. Technological advancements in boring operations have made modern-day underground infrastructure projects that use new tunnel-boring machines even more dangerous. These projects typically require working in pressure levels above 50 pounds per square inch. The existing OSHA tables are only effective in eliminating nitrogen from a worker’s body at pressure levels up to 36.5 pounds per square inch.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Eden-Kindwall tables developed in 1981 are better than OSHA’s tables but are still ineffective in dealing with pressure levels higher than 50 pounds per square inch.

NIOSH is currently collecting information about projects in which the 1981 tables were used to evaluate performance in terms of possible health effects on decompressed workers. The agency is also seeking alternate tables that can effectively decompress workers at levels higher than 50 pounds per square inch. The agency has invited public comments and input on the issue.

Connecticut workplace illness victims should be aware of their legal rights against their employers. These victims may file a workers’ compensation claim for work-related illnesses. The compensation awarded may include medical expenses, weekly wage benefits and the costs of rehabilitation.

Source: Riskandinsurance.com, “Updated information sought to protect tunnel workers,” Feb. 4, 2013

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