Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that can prove fatal when inhaled. Employees who work around diesel, propane and other combustion engines are often placed at risk for CO poisoning due to the large amounts of this toxic gas being produced. If you own and/or manage a workplace with combustion engines, you should familiarize yourself with some of the common course of CO.
The Dangers of CO Inhalation
When carbon monoxide is inhaled, it impedes the body's natural ability to send oxygen to organs and tissue. Acute inhalation of CO typically results in minor, non-life-threatening complications, such as headache, nausea, weakness, rapid breathing and lethargy. Prolonged exposure, however, can result in reversible neurological effects, irreversible neurological effects or even death.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Administration (CPSA), approximately 170 people in the U.S. die each year from sources non-automobile sources. The National Safety Council and the Center for Disease Control states that an additional 5,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for CO poisoning. Most cases of CO poisoning in the workplace are avoidable; employees can protect themselves by remaining conscious of their surroundings.
Note: the "normal" levels for CO is 1-3 PPM in air. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) states that the permissible exposure level for CO is 50 for 8 hours. At 60-150 CO PPM, the onset of minor symptoms begin, including headaches and dizziness.
Common Sources of CO In The Workplace:
- Welding machine
- Portable generators
- Gas-powered tools and equipment
- Wood-burning stoves
- Engines running in non-ventilated areas
- Any other diesel, coal, propane or gas-burning item
- Fuel-burning space heaters
The biggest problem with carbon monoxide is the simple fact that it doesn't smell or taste; therefore, workers end up poisoning themselves without even realizing it. It's not uncommon for workers to mistake their acute CO poisoning symptoms for being "over worked." This is why it's important for companies to set up functional CO monitoring devices in the workplace.
CO Monitoring and Testing
There are several different solutions available for testing and monitoring CO levels in the workplace, one of which are basic CO monitoring devices which are installed on the walls or ceiling. They work in a similar manner as smoke detectors by creating a loud audible alarm when CO is detected. Certain states have laws requiring CO detectors in workplaces with sources of combustion.
Other methods of CO testing include portable detectors and testing tubes.
Have you dealt with high above-normal levels of CO in your workplace? We'd love to hear about it in the comments section below!