Exposing The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

It's known as the silent killer - the poisonous gas that you can't see, smell,
taste or touch. However what carbon monoxide (CO) lacks in personality, it
makes up for in potency. CO poisoning is responsible for hundreds of deaths,
and thousands of hospital visits every year in North America.

A common and deadly hazard, CO results from the incomplete burning of natural
gas and any other material containing carbon such as gasoline, kerosene, oil,
propane, coal, or wood. Cigarette smoke and motor vehicle exhaust are also
sources of CO.

How CO harms people

When we breathe in carbon monoxide, it interferes with the ability of red blood
cells to carry oxygen to the heart, brain, and other vital organs. Exposure to
very high concentrations can overcome a person in minutes with few or no
warning signs and result in coma or death. Hence the extreme danger of this gas.

The initial symptoms of poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the
fever). They include tightness across the chest, headache, fatigue, dizziness,
drowsiness, or nausea. As symptoms worsen the victim may experience muscle
weakness, vomiting, confusion, and even collapse, losing consciousness. The
sense of confusion, caused by this gas, can interfere with the victim's ability
to realize that their life is in danger.

Workplaces at risk

Internal combustion engines are the most common source of CO in the workplace.
There is also a risk of exposure in boiler rooms, warehouses, petroleum
refineries, blast furnaces, steel production and pulp and paper production.
Farmers have been poisoned by CO while using motorized equipment such as
gasoline pressure washers inside barns. While workers in confined spaces, such
as mines are at risk, harmful levels of CO can also be present in large
buildings or outdoor areas. Other occupations with risk of CO exposure are taxi
drivers, welders and garage mechanics. Emergency workers entering uncontrolled
environments without wearing a carbon monoxide detector have also been subject
to serious injury and even death.

What employers can do

  • Install an effective ventilation system that will remove carbon monoxide from
    work areas.

  • Maintain water heaters, space heaters, cooking ranges, and other potential
    CO-producing equipment in good working order.

  • As an alternative to gasoline-powered equipment, use equipment powered by
    electricity, batteries, or compressed air.

  • Install reliable CO detector alarms that give both visual and audible
    warnings immediately.

  • Don't allow the use of gasoline-powered engines or tools in poorly ventilated

  • Test air quality regularly in areas where CO may be present, including
    confined spaces.

  • Have your 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.

  • Have your employees wear respirators with canisters for short periods under
    certain circumstances where CO levels are not exceedingly high.

  • If your employees are working in confined spaces where the presence of CO is
    suspected, you must ensure that the air quality is tested before anyone enters.

  • Educate workers who may be exposed to CO. They must know the sources and
    symptoms, how to protect themselves, recognize symptoms in co-workers, and how
    to respond in case of an emergency.

Employees have a part to play

Employees, too, can help prevent CO poisoning by reporting any potential CO
hazards to the employer, and looking out for ventilation problems - especially
in enclosed areas where gases of burning fuels may be released. Don't use
gas-powered engines in an enclosed space. Report complaints of dizziness,
drowsiness, or nausea if you suspect CO poisoning, and leave the contaminated
area immediately. If you get sick, tell your doctor that you may have been
exposed to CO.

Further Information

AplusA-online.de - Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety