Carbon Monoxide Safety

It's called the "silent sickness," and sometimes it becomes a "silent killer. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a common, highly flammable gas that can kill in minutes, in high concentrations. Unlike many other chemicals, carbon monoxide has no distinctive odor, taste, or appearance. Unfortunately, the symptoms of CO poisoning-nausea, headache, and dizziness-resemble other common illnesses, and can be easily mistaken for a cold or stomach flu. Carbon monoxide poisoning strikes thousands of people each year, either on the job or at home. Of those thousands affected, hundreds die.

Why is Carbon Monoxide so Dangerous?

This gas produces its toxic effects when you breathe it, by replacing oxygen in the blood stream with carbon monoxide which acts on all organs in the body, especially the brain. As carbon monoxide combines with hemoglobin, less and less oxygen is carried to the tissues. If tissues/organs do not receive oxygen, they stop functioning.

How It's Produced

Any process that involves the use of heat, oxidation, or combustion can produce carbon monoxide. Winter months can be a dangerous time for this problem. Buildings are tightly closed, and the buildup of the gas is not usually noticed by unsuspecting employees.

High Exposure Areas:

  • Forklift or Vehicle repair shops.
  • Offices above loading docks are also vulnerable as the gas rises, causing dizziness and nausea for employees working there.
  • In shop areas, ventilation systems should be checked periodically to prevent poisoning from this gas. Fans should be on, motors and fan belts functioning properly. Hoses and duct work should be carefully connected, and the systems checked for dents and holes which could impede the exhaust of gasses.
  • Engines should be turned off as much as possible when buildings are tightly sealed during the winter.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning:

  • Low Concentrations – shortage of breath on moderate exertion; slight headache; nausea; dizziness.
  • Higher Concentrations – severe headache; mental confusion; dizziness; impairment of vision and hearing; collapse or fainting on exertion.
  • Extreme Concentrations – unconsciousness, coma; death.
  • CO is classed as a potential hazard to reproductive health (higher rate of miscarriage, stillbirth, and low birth weight when exposed during pregnancy. In men, genetic damage to reproductive cells, loss of potency, and abnormal sperm count).

If You Suspect Carbon Monoxide Poisoning:

  • Seek medical attention immediately.
  • Take exposed person to fresh air as quickly as possible.
  • Give artificial respiration if breathing as stopped.
  • If you must rescue a person from a contaminated area, wear a breathing apparatus.

Safety Tips:

  • Do not use vehicles or other gas-powered equipment (including heaters, generators, etc) in enclosed areas.
  • Have CO detectors properly installed and tested regularly.
  • Ensure equipment is maintained according to manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Always test confined spaces prior to entering.

Carbon Monoxide Danger