The Chicago Occupational Accident Attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers Represent Injured HVAC Workers
Residential and commercial HVAC Workers install, repair and troubleshoot heating, ventilation, cooling and refrigerant systems that control indoor air and temperature circulation. These technicians usually receive their training after completing's postsecondary educational programs that teach comprehensive skills through apprenticeship or academic programs. Common duties and responsibilities of HVAC Workers include:
- Consult with customers at their place of business or residential home to discuss HVAC solutions.
- Install new units and repair existing systems.
- Inspect and diagnose HVAC systems for safety, efficiency, and effectiveness using specialized tools.
- Perform routine preventative maintenance on the system to increase its efficiency and longevity.
- Troubleshoot HVAC systems to determine problematic issues.
- Repair damages to the heating and cooling system.
- Perform routine maintenance on schedule according to customer contracts
Knowledgeable HVAC Workers keep us warm during the frigid winter months and cool during the summertime. However, their job often places them at significant risk to harm, injury or illness.
HVAC Workers Hazards
Working as an HVAC technician can pose some significant risks to the worker's health and physical safety caused by occupational hazards. Some of those dangerous hazards include:
- Wiring Hazards – HVAC units work using a complicated electronic system built on color-coded low-voltage electrical wires and 120/240-volt electricity. Exposure to 240 or 120 V of electricity can put the technician at risk for being electrocuted. Most electrocutions cause significant internal injuries and extensive burns. The impact this instantaneous and often occurs without warning. To limit exposure to electrocution, the worker must remain vigilant, and only work on the unit with the power turned off. HVAC technicians should chest every wire before touching them to determine which wires or live or not.
- Equipment Hazards – Typically, when the HVAC technician arrives at the job site, the unit has been running hot due to inefficiency or malfunctioning parts. Contacting heated components can cause severe burns. Additionally, there are significant risks to moving complex HVAC equipment because of its weight and size. The sharp edges of the unit might also cause scrapes, puncture wounds, lacerations, and cuts.
- Exposure to Environmental Hazards – HVAC technicians can be exposed to toxic asbestos fibers when working on HVAC units that were constructed with asbestos-containing materials. Before the 1980s, many heating and cooling systems used asbestos because of its heat resistance. This material was used in the construction of Furnace ducts, boiler surfaces, and water and steam piping. The airborne fibers are easily released when old ductwork is disturbed, broken, sanded or cut in any way. Inhalation of the fibers can cause significant internal damage when it becomes lodged in the interior of the lungs and organ tissue.
- Fatigue-related Hazards – Many HVAC technicians work under tight schedules that require the completion of jobs before moving on to the next appointment. The increased pressure and stress of getting the job done promptly can cause the development of fatigue-related injuries and problems. Also, fatigue workers are often highly susceptible to missing critical steps in the process or exposing themselves to other hazards including electrocution, burns or falling from a significant height.
- Safety Violations – Failing to follow safety protocols by not securing tools properly can place the worker in grave danger. It is imperative that every worker on the job site follows safety procedures for themselves and others.
- Burns – The compressors for most HVAC units are installed on hot commercial rooftops or open areas next to the building. These units are often situated in direct sunlight, making the payments and other components extremely hot. Emergency maintenance of installed equipment also tends to be hot when malfunctioning.
- Falls – Installing new units and working on existing systems on commercial rooftops can be especially hazardous to the health of the worker, who might be susceptible to falling off the building's roof.
Working in a confined space is a significant problem to HVAC technicians who are installing, repairing or maintaining complex HVAC systems in attics, basements, or other tight spaces. According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), heating and cooling technicians should always work with another individual when performing duties in a confined space. However, the area must be adequately ventilated, especially if the workers are brazing or welding. Ventilation is crucial because oxygen levels can quickly deplete, causing the workers to become disoriented to their surroundings very quickly.
HVAC Workers' Wages
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016, data concerning the employment statistics of the previous year, 4100 HVAC Workers were working in the Chicago, Naperville and Arlington Heights metropolitan area. On average, most HVAC Workers in northeastern Illinois earn $53,090 every year (mean wage), which is $25.53 per hour. The Chicago local area wage is significantly higher than the national averages. See Chart
HVAC Technician Fatalities and Injuries
Lifting heavy objects and working in confined spaces had the potential of causing serious injuries. When the heating and cooling worker is exposed to environmental hazards, any incident can become life-threatening when a fall arrest system fails, electrocution occurs, or the worker is exposed to toxic chemicals, solvents, cleaning liquids, and pressurized cylinders filled with gases and chemicals that are known to burn. In recent years, there have been significant cases involving HVAC employee fatalities throughout the United States. Some of those cases include:
- Case 1: Dallas, Texas – An HVAC Employee is Electrocuted While Working on a Furnace. On June 28, 2017, an HVAC worker "was connecting mental docking to a plenum of a furnace. The employee was exposed to a conducted that was not effectively closed when trying to install the plenum to the existing furnace. The employee was electrocuted."
- Case 2: Oxford, Pennsylvania – A heating and cooling worker was electrocuted while working on a system. At midmorning on May 28, 2017, a HVAC technician "was troubleshooting and HVAC system" and "received an electrical shock and was killed."
- Case 3: Kansas City, Kansas – An HVAC Worker was electrocuted while performing maintenance on a heating and cooling system.
- Case 4: San Antonio, Texas – An HVAC Worker was electrocuted while troubleshooting an air-conditioning system. Just after noon on February 25, 2016, and HVAC worker "was troubleshooting a hotel air conditioning and heating unit without a lockout/tag out system." The worker "received an electrical shock from a 240/120 V electrical system while repairing the unit in a hotel guest room." The HVAC technician "was not using insulated or intrinsically safe tools during the troubleshooting." The electrical shock affected the employee's lungs and liver. The accident resulted in his death.
- Case 5: July 2016 – A 33-year-old HVAC contractor inspected an air-conditioning unit alone that was positioned on a flat roof of the warehouse. The incident occurred when he fell through an unguarded skylight and landed on the concrete floor below. The contractor succumbed to his fall-related injuries nineteen days later. The victim's death certificate listed TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) as the cause of death.
- Case 6: October 2014 – A 46-year-old heating and cooling contractor and 23-year-old assistant were killed while installing ductwork for an air-conditioning system while working in a crawl space. While installing a combination HVAC unit in a private residence, both the employee and contractor were electrocuted while placing aluminum straps on the newly installed duct work. The employee was using an electric drill to attach a strap using screws when the drill bit damaged insulation allowing the strap to become energized. The employee was held in place while the current went to the ground. The contractor crawled in to help the employee when he too became grounded. The connection was broken only after the owner of the resident's pulled the main circuit breaker before calling 911. Emergency service technicians transported both victims to the hospital where they were pronounced dead.
HVAC Technician Safety Guidelines
There are significant steps that every HVAC technician can follow to minimize the potential risk of severe injury or death on the job. The steps Include:
- Wear Protective Gear – During an HVAC technician's shift, the worker may be exposed to various contaminants including gases, chemicals, dust, and other debris. Wearing a respirator can ensure that the worker is free from harmful particulates and particles. It is especially important to wear a respirator with eye protection, that would involve safety goggles to ensure that the eyeballs remain safeguarded from contact with fine particles, liquids, and chemicals. The worker should also consider wearing gloves and slip-resistant shoes to maintain a steady footing along with earplugs and a hard hat.
- Use Appropriate Tools to Stay Safe – Using the proper HVAC tools to do the job correctly is an important part of being a successful technician. Before beginning the job, the technician should acquire a variety of tools including wire strippers, wrenches, clamp meters, anemometers, and vacuum gauges. Leak detectors are also an essential component to completing the job especially in areas that have radiation and gas leaks.
- Identify Hazards – Before performing any installation or repair, it is crucial to take the time necessary to fully evaluate the job site and identify every potential hazard and danger to ensure proper safety precautions are taken from the start. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends making every technician undergo additional electrical safety training programs to understand better electrical current and how to rescue employees in danger without getting hurt.
- Understand Chemical Safety – HVAC technicians are exposed to a variety of chemicals every day that are known to create a serious threat to the worker's health. This includes using cleaning fluids and refrigerants that contain detergents and solvents which are highly problematic to the worker's health. Certain chemicals are known to combust and cause significant injuries. Workers are often required to wear protective gloves to prevent skin burns caused by harmful chemicals. When not use, dangerous chemicals should be properly stored for transporting safely.
- Avoid Shock – The unfamiliarity of working at a new location with electrical equipment could place the technician at serious risks of shock or electrocution. To stay safe, the technician must take preventative measures and act cautiously. Some problems occur when damage to the system causes a water leak that drips on to live electrical components. Before the technician begins working on the equipment, the mechanic parts should be disconnected by turning off the main circuit breaker.
Training is an essential component to ensuring the technician's health and well-being and every given moment during their shift. This requires their employer to provide on-the-job assistive training, which includes documented procedures and policies on how to perform duties safely in any work environment.
We Can Help You with Your Compensation Claim
Our attorneys assist injured HVAC Workers recover financial compensation under the IL Worker's Compensation Act and through civil lawsuits. Call our office now for a Free Case Review.
Have you been denied worker's compensation benefits or believe that you might be denied? Our legal team can provide the assistance you need to resolve your case successfully. Our attorneys will also review your claim to ensure that every individual responsible for your harm is held financially accountable.
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