Argon Exposure at Work Can Be Deadly

Row of liquefied argon industrial gas containers

Argon exposure can cause nausea, difficulty breathing, or even death. Argon gas is a frequently overlooked workplace hazard that can be deadly. Although there are currently no workplace exposure limits in place for argon, it poses a health risk in many environments, making it important for employers and employees to implement and follow safe work practices.

What Is Argon?

Argon is a type of gas that's odorless, colorless, and tasteless. It's not flammable or reactive. Applications that may use it include metal refining, electric lamps, arc welding, and ionization chambers. Argon and other “inert gases” can be used with other gases in industrial laser pointers. When used this way, the laser can emit light in the ultraviolet range.

Argon presents several potential hazards depending on how employees interact with it.

Potential Dangers of Argon Exposure

Some of the hazards that argon gas can present include:

Argon Exposure Symptoms from Inhalation

Although inhaling small amounts of argon gas isn't likely to cause serious health effects, a lack of oxygen in the surrounding environment resulting from large quantities of argon could cause symptoms if workers inhale this gas.

Some symptoms of argon exposure in an oxygen-deficient environment include headaches, unconsciousness, drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, ringing in the ears, vomiting, and reduced senses. In extreme cases, when oxygen comprises less than six percent of the environment, workers could die from argon inhalation.

Workers who inhale argon are also at risk of indirect harm. Because of the lack of oxygen to the brain, affected workers may have impaired decision-making abilities and may injure or kill themselves or others. A factory worker with argon-induced asphyxiation may have an increased chance of causing a workplace accident. Welders, for example, who use argon in their trade, may lose consciousness or control of their muscles because of argon inhalation. This may lead to workplace injuries such as burns or heat injuries.

Fire Hazards

Argon is not easily flammable, unless it comes into contact with oxygen or another "oxidizer" to catch fire. That said, argon that is in a high-pressure tank or canister may explode. If a tank containing argon is heated or pierced, the tank could rupture and explode because of the increase in pressure.

Injuries from Skin or Eye Exposure

If compressed argon released from an argon tank contacts the skin or eyes, victims may experience frostbite, damage, or injury due to freezing. If left untreated, severe freezing injuries could develop into gangrene.

Injuries such as these resulting from argon exposure may warrant workers' compensation claims in many cases.

How to Protect Yourself From Argon Gas Exposure

Employers must take steps to facilitate a safe workplace in potentially hazardous environments.

Some of these measures may include using local ventilation for argon and other chemicals and enclosing certain chemical processes involving argon or other types of corrosive and irritating chemicals. Further, your employer may need to use proper ventilation to help control exposure to irritants affecting the skin and eyes. 

Additional steps include:

  • Providing employees with information around argon hazards and training
  • Labeling process containers
  • Providing emergency showers and eyewash fountains
  • Regularly monitoring for dangerous airborne chemical levels

Implementing the right control measures can help protect employees from serious injuries in the workplace that may otherwise result from argon exposure.

What to Do If You Suffer a Workplace Injury from Argon Exposure

If your employer fails to take the proper precautions, he or she may be in violation of the law. This puts you and your co-workers at risk of an injury. Workers who suffer injuries from argon exposure may be eligible to receive compensation for medical bills and lost wages.

Your priority after an argon exposure injury is to promptly seek medical attention, then notify your employer of the accident within 90 days. Contacting a workers' compensation attorney should be next on your list. He or she can help you prepare the workers' compensation paperwork and defend you if your employer disputes the workers' compensation claim.

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For the past 15 years Mr. Pothitakis has focused his practice on Workers Compensation and Personal Injury Cases. The firm has two locations, one being in Burlington, Iowa and the other in Keokuk, Iowa. Mr. Pothitakis works with many area unions and employee organizations to provide advice, assistance, and guidance as it relates to employment issues. Mr. Pothitakis provides free consultations to those with legal questions in the firm's areas of practice. In this initial meeting or conference potential clients are provided advice on their need for assistance and how they need to proceed.