Saturday, March 25, 2023

Airlie Gardens groundskeeper warns county of ‘dangerous practice’ involving staff vehicles

A group of ‘gator’ vehicles sits outside Airlie Gardens garages. According to a groundskeeper, idling the machines indoors might have exposed an employee to carbon monoxide. (Port City Daily photo / Preston Lennon)

WILMINGTON — A grounds maintenance worker at Airlie Gardens is trying to call attention to what he called “dangerous practices among the landscaping crew at Airlie Gardens.” 

In a Sept. 27 email to county officials, the groundskeeper wrote that on four occasions he has witnessed crew members idling John Deere Gators inside buildings, “allowing exhaust from the gasoline powered engine to travel around the interior of the Garden Service Center and ‘the Stables.’” 

“Even if there are doors and windows open this is a dangerous practice and should be stopped immediately,” he wrote. “One crew member, (who I have seen on more than one occasion running an engine indoors at the stables,) has shown signs of carbon monoxide poisoning such as headaches, incoherent mumbling and self-reported unexplained hours of vomiting.” 

The Stables are a building used for equipment storage on the eastern edge of Airlie Gardens near the Bradley Creek Marina, and the Garden Services Center is the main building in Airlie Gardens’ parking lot off Airlie Road, according to a spokesperson for Airlie Gardens

In the email to New Hanover County staff, the Airlie Gardens groundskeeper wrote: “I am contacting Risk Management because after bringing up this issue to the supervisor nothing was done and his only reply to my concerns was ‘gotcha.’ In this instance I do not know what ‘gotcha means.” 

“Due to the potential severity of this problem I thought a crew meeting to discuss the issue should have been conducted within the hour or before the end of the day at the latest,” he wrote. “I brought this issue up to the supervisor on Sept. 23 and as far as I know this was not discussed with the crew as of September 27.”

County officials said in the email chain that the New Hanover County safety officer would look into the situation. 

Franklin Juarez, the County’s safety officer, declined to answer questions. A spokesperson for New Hanover County said Juarez visited Airlie Gardens on Monday, “and he met with the grounds supervisor to review their practices and begin implementing additional safety measures.”

“While no grounds employee has reported having any symptoms consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning, the staff understand the importance of being cautious and will begin implementing several measures immediately to help ensure this is not an issue,” the spokesperson said in an email. 

A group of groundskeepers outside the Garden Services Center said on Sept. 28 they had not heard about claims of carbon monoxide exposure resulting from Gator exhaust. 

“We couldn’t say anything even if we did know,” a groundskeeper said. 

Scott Childs, parks superintendent for New Hanover County, said that moving forward, the Gators will be manually pushed into the garages instead of driven into them. He added that there is a large exhaust fan in the Garden’s garages that protects workers from carbon monoxide exposure, though he could not say whether or not it was running at the time of the occasions detailed in the groundskeeper’s email. 

Childs said Airlie Gardens and the County are currently trying to figure out if an employee has been exposed to carbon monoxide due to Gator exhaust. 

“We’re still trying to find out who that person was,” Childs said. 

The spokesperson for New Hanover County said a number of safety measures will be implemented at Airlie Gardens following the visit from Juarez, the safety officer.

“That includes: hanging posters in the main work area and the stables about carbon monoxide poisoning and important information for workers; not letting any machine idle while inside; turning the fans inside the garage on and pointing them out the doors for additional ventilation; and installing a carbon monoxide alarm in the work areas,” she said. 

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