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The Dangers of Working at High Altitudes

Humans experience adverse physical effects at altitudes above 1,500 meters. Since air pressure is low at high altitudes, oxygen is scarce and lungs require more effort to deliver oxygen into the bloodstream. Although the majority of major construction projects take place at altitudes where humans don’t need to acclimate, developments in parts of Bolivia, Peru, Tibet, and Ethiopia (to name a few) in the last 50 years exhibit signs of a future where we continue to push the limit and build skyward.

At Cotney Construction Law, our OSHA attorneys are familiar with the dangers of uncommon building projects that pose a threat to the wellbeing of your workers if unaccounted for. Working at high altitudes is challenging and dangerous, but with an OSHA attorney on your side to guide you through the legal processes of fulfilling such a unique contract, you can rest assured that every precautionary stopgap is utilized to keep your workers safe and your job site OSHA compliant.

Relevant OSHA Regulations

According to OSHA’s guidelines for respiratory protection as outlined in statute 1910.134, “air breathed by employees must have an oxygen content of at least 19.5 percent.” Oxygen content below the approved levels can result in physiological problems or render an employee unable to cope with other workplace hazards. Although OSHA recognizes the marked differences in an employee who is acclimated to low oxygen and an employee who is not, the definition of oxygen-deficient conditions are consistent across all employee needs. As such, the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard insists that employees working at high altitudes are provided with a supplied-air respirator that delivers the approved 19.5 percent oxygen by their employer.

Altitude Sickness and Other Health Concerns

Altitude sickness usually occurs when a person makes a rapid ascent to an altitude of more than 8,000 feet. Altitude sickness can be classified as acute mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). The symptoms of altitude sickness can be classified into two categories:

  • Early symptoms: headaches, fatigue, and insomnia
  • Later symptoms: shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, respiratory failure, cerebral edema, coma, and death

People with symptoms of AMS usually don’t require medical care, but if symptoms progress, they should consider consulting an emergency medicine physician, hyperbaric chamber expert, neurologist, or critical care specialist. If you believe you have symptoms of AMS, it’s imperative to return to a lower altitude immediately to offset the development of further symptoms. Remember that acclimation takes time, and it’s important to listen to your body when working at high altitudes.

If your team is working on a high altitude construction project, an OSHA defense lawyer can help you maintain OSHA compliance and prepare your team for success.

If you would like to speak with an OSHA defense lawyer, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.