Diesel Odor

Question:

In our workplace that is separated by a wall from a very large engine that uses diesel fuel, we are subjected nearly daily and sometimes all day long to the very strong odor of diesel. The fumes settle in pockets and are worse in some work spaces than in others. Our Safety division has tested the air and determined that the levels are not dangerous to our health, yet the odor is annoying and causes workplace unhappiness, uneasiness and even anger. Since our building is old and built around the diesel engine, our Facilities people have been unable to find or correct the problem. Is there recourse for an issue that may not be deemed a “medical” hazard yet is pyschologically annoying? Sometimes we feel like we can cut the fumes with a knife. We are office workers, are at our desks most of the day, and cannot escape the fumes.

Signed,

Choking


Answer:

Dear Choking:

You know your situation best, but it seems you have several options–none of them ideal.

1. Contact your state Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and ask for an inspection about the fumes from the diesel engine. OSHA may have guidelines that would cover some aspect of it.

The problem with that, of course, is that if OSHA requires something that is so expensive your company can’t afford it, they could be pushed out of business!

2. Has your company tried some sort of commercial equipment that might filter the air or reduce the odor? Or, fans that would at least move the odor around? Or, a fan that would vent the air from the fuel area out into the open instead of into the rest of the building?

3. Workplace odors are certainly subject to civil action by employees. You would need to speak to an attorney about that. The fact that an odor won’t kill you doesn’t prevent it from irritating your nasal and throat passages, causing headaches and nausea, and all the other things associated with fragrance and odor sensitivity. Again though, the remedy may be too expensive for the business to handle.

4. It may be that your company could find an alternative fuel rather than diesel. (That odor mght be equally troublesome–I understand the most common alternative fuel smells like fried food.)

5. Does your office have to be located next to the engine? Could a modular office be developed? Could another location be found?

Having said all of that, I will add that I don’t see how you can deal with the odor of fuel fumes even part of a day! It must surely pollute your clothes, hair and skin!

If I were you I’d check to see about non-regulatory options (the fans, filters, etc.) Then, I’d check on OSHA standards for your state, or at the federal level. And if not that, you may find you will either have to quit and find work in a place that is less odorous or attempt legal action that might harm the company and would likely still not result in a change, if nothing can be done and the fumes are not over the limit. This is a very tough situation, but I’m sure your managers also wish there was a solution. Perhaps working together something can be done to alleviate the problem. I would not, however, stop with an in-house opinion about harm.

Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.