What is carbon monoxide and where is it found?
Carbon monoxide, otherwise known by its chemical symbol, “CO”, is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and/or death. It is found in combustion fumes such as those produced by cars, trucks, gasoline engines, stoves, burning fuels such as wood and charcoal and heating systems. Common to many employers are gas generators, power tools, compressors, pumps and welding equipment which produce CO gasses that can lead to CO poisoning. Gas from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces and can cause serious injury or death to people breathing it.
This scenario can be especially common in the winter months when employers use this type of equipment in indoor spaces that have doors and windows closed to preserve the heat and keep out the cold.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
The most common symptoms are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. Inhaling high levels of this noxious gas can also cause loss of consciousness and death. Diagnosis of the condition can be difficult because the symptoms are very similar to other illnesses. This is particularly true during the winter when flu-like symptoms are prevalent in the work place. Because it is colorless, odorless and non-irritating, CO can overcome a person without warning and before he or she has an opportunity to seek safety.
Reduce the risk
These are some steps an employer can take to reduce the risk that its employees will be exposed to carbon monoxide:
- Install an effective ventilation system.
- Avoid the use of fuel burning equipment in enclosed areas.
- Use CO detectors, including personal CO monitors in areas where there is greater potential for CO exposure.
- Learn to recognize the symptoms and signs of carbon monoxide overexposure: headache, nausea, weakness, dizziness, visual disturbances, changes in personality and loss of consciousness.
- Consider the use of tools powered by electricity or compressed air if available and can be used safely.
- Conduct a workplace survey to identify all potential sources of CO exposure and educate workers of the symptoms, dangers and warning signs.
If CO exposure symptoms do occur, call 911 or another local emergency number for medical assistance or attention. Do not attempt to drive a motor vehicle if you think you may suffer from CO poisoning; instead, get someone else to drive.
The potential for carbon monoxide exposure is a year round risk of which all employers and employees should be aware, but even more so in these winter months with the increased risk of exposure due to conservation of heat and the resultant potential for decreased ventilation.
Acadia Insurance is pleased to share this material with its customers. Please note, however, that nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services. This material is for general informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness. Distribution of this information does not constitute an assumption by us of your obligations to provide a safe workplace. Maintaining a safe workplace in accordance with all laws is your responsibility. We make no representation or warranty that our activities or recommendations will place you in compliance with law, relieve you of potential liability or ensure your premises or operations are safe. We exercise no control over your premises or operations and have no responsibility or authority to implement loss prevention practices or procedures.