A 34-year-old newlywed was found dead on Monday in a freezer room at a medical supply company where he worked, two hours after he must have inhaled excessive levels of carbon dioxide from vaporizing dry ice and passed out from hypoxia, an initial investigation showed.
Police said the victim, surnamed Pan (潘), was employed in February last year by Baida Medical Supplies Co as a delivery boy. His work included picking up medical supplies in a freezer room.
Twice a week, Pan would go to the firm’s office in Wugu District (五股), New Taipei City (新北市), to pick up the supplies for delivery to different hospitals.
His supervisor, surnamed Wang (王), said Pan was trained for the job, adding that the company requires that such tasks be carried out with at least one other person present.
Wang said he did not know why Pan would have entered the freezer room alone.
A colleague surnamed Chen (陳), who administered Pan’s training, said Pan did his routine tasks on Monday morning and left at 8am.
Chen said Pan must have arrived at the storage room at 11am. He said he tried to call Pan at about 12pm, but Pan never answered his cellphone.
Suspecting something might be wrong, company employees attempted to locate Pan and later found him lying on the floor of the freezer room, covered with frost and showing no vital signs.
A preliminary investigation showed that the temperature in the storage room was not low enough during the time of the accident, triggering the vaporization of dry ice and increasing the carbon dioxide level in the room.
Inhalation of excessive levels of carbon dioxide can cause dizziness and fainting, forensic scientists said, adding that Pan could have blacked out after breathing the carbon dioxide and then froze to death.
However, Pan’s wife cast doubt on the company’s explanation, saying her husband had told her about the dangerous nature of his job and he was unlikely to work alone.
“He was a cautious man, how could he violate the company’s regulations?” Pan’s wife asked.
Hu Hua-tai (胡華泰), secretary-general of New Taipei City’s Labor Standards Inspection Office, said the work area was not equipped with oxygen-level detectors and the staff could only determine the level through respiration.
As Pan was a relatively inexperienced employee, he may have forgotten to switch on the exhaust when he entered the storage room, allowing the carbon dioxide level to increase, resulting in his suffocation, Hu said.
Hu added that if police later link Pan’s death to his failure to turn on the exhaust, the employer may be charged with failing to provide sufficient job training under Article 31 of the Labor Safety and Health Act (勞工安全衛生法) and referred to the district prosecutors’ office for investigation.
Translated by Stacy Hsu, Staff writer