Safety Tip: Beware Workplace Carbon Monoxide Dangers

Every year hundreds of workers experience carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, especially during the winter months with closed buildings and increased use of furnaces, space heaters and generators. Fuel-burning tools also add to the risk. But you can take steps to help stop workplace carbon monoxide dangers. Start with these tips from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Know the Symptoms:

Some initial symptoms of workplace carbon monoxide poisoning mimic those of the flu, without a fever. But they can quickly worsen as the odorless gass interferes with oxygen supplies to the brain and heart. The most common symptoms of exposure are headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and confusion. Prolonged or high exposures may lead to convulsions, coma and death. Large amounts can overcome workers in just minutes with few or no warning signs. Another hazard of CO: It is extremely flammable and easily can ignite in air.

Identify Common Workplace Carbon Monoxide Dangers:

  • Carbon monoxide is produced when natural gas, coal and other carbon fuels such as gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane or wood are not burned completely. Internal combustion engines are a common workplace source of carbon monoxide.
  • The gas is often found in smelting operations, warehouses, construction sites, welding shops, steel production and in areas with heavy vehicle traffic.
  • Workers in confined spaces, such as mines or basements, are at higher risk, but harmful levels of carbon monoxide can also be present in large buildings and outdoor areas.
  • Emergency workers entering uncontrolled environments without wearing a carbon monoxide detector have also been seriously injured or died as a result of being poisoned.

Take 10 Steps to Protect Employees from Workplace Carbon Monoxide:

  • Install an effective ventilation system that will remove carbon monoxide from work areas.
  • Avoid operating fuel-powered machinery indoors where possible. When it is not possible, limit exposure times to these machines.
  • Make sure potential sources of CO, such as furnaces, internal combustion engines and gas ranges, are well-maintained.
  • Do not allow the use of gasoline-powered engines or tools in poorly ventilated areas.
  • Use equipment powered by electricity, batteries or compressed air as an alternative to gasoline-powered equipment.
  • Eliminate heat and ignition sources such as sparks, open flames, hot surfaces and static discharge.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors in working areas that will give immediate visual and audible warnings before dangerous conditions develop.
  • Test air quality regularly in areas where CO may be present, including confined spaces, before anyone enters the space.
  • Have employees wear a certified, full-facepiece pressure-demand self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) or a combination full-facepiece pressure demand supplied-air respirator with auxiliary self-contained air supply in areas with high CO concentrations.
  • Educate workers who may be exposed to CO on the sources, symptoms of exposure, how to protect themselves, how to recognize symptoms in coworkers and how to respond in case of an emergency.

Encourage Employee Awareness and Action:

  • Employees should be able to recognize the sources of CO and the symptoms of exposure.
  • Report any situation that might cause CO to accumulate to your employer.
    Be alert to ventilation problems – particularly in enclosed areas where gases of burning fuels may be released.
  • Do not use gas powered engines in an enclosed space.
  • Recognize and promptly report any feelings of dizziness, drowsiness, or nausea.
  • If you suspect CO poisoning, leave the contaminated area immediately.
  • If you get sick, be sure to tell your doctor that you may have been exposed to CO.

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