November 20, 2020 – Winter offers cold weather challenges but also brings a heightened threat of workplace carbon monoxide exposure and poisonings. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that most CO poisonings happen during the fall and winter months.
Carbon monoxide occurs from incomplete combustion of fuels like natural gas, gasoline, propane, coal or wood. According to OSHA, one of the most common sources of CO exposure in the workplace from internal combustion engines like running cars, forklifts or generators.
“Any workers who must work around running engines should take precautions and should know the early signs of carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Illinois Department of Labor Director Michael Kleinik.
When CO is breathed, it displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives vital organs of oxygen. When highly concentrated, it can cause a person to quickly lose consciousness and suffocate. Even with lower concentrations, CO can be dangerous over time. Early signs of CO poisoning include tightness in the chest, fatigue, headache, drowsiness, and nausea. Workers such as welders, firefighters, police, taxi drivers, warehouse workers all have a common thread of exposure to vehicles or machines that are capable of producing carbon monoxide.
Aside from regular maintenance of equipment, OSHA offers several other recommendations to reduce the chance of CO poisoning in the workplace:
• Install an effective ventilation system to remove CO from the work area.
• Prohibit the use of gasoline powered tools and engines in poorly ventilated areas.
• Consider converting from gasoline-powered equipment to equipment powered by electricity or batteries when possible.
• Test air regularly and provide personal CO detectors for workers in areas where carbon monoxide exposure is possible.
• Educate workers on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and the symptoms and control of CO.
If you think that CO poisoning has occurred, the victim should be immediately moved to an open area with fresh air. Call for medical assistance and if available, administer 100% oxygen if the victim is breathing. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be reversed if it is caught in time, but avoiding or eliminating the threat is the best solution.