Depending on where you work, you may be at risk from carbon monoxide gas. This commonplace industrial hazard is responsible for the largest number of occupational poisoning deaths due to gas. Here’s a quick FAQ reviewing what you should know about this dangerous gas, and how to recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure:
What is Carbon Monoxide and Where is it Found?
Carbon monoxide, sometimes written as CO, is a natural by-product of burning any material containing carbon. This includes gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas, wood and just about anything else you’d normally burn. CO is colorless and odorless, so you can be poisoned without realizing that you’re in danger.
You are at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning anywhere that combustion takes place in a poorly ventilated area. Common examples include: Starting up a vehicle in a closed garage, using a generator or gasoline-powered saw in an unventilated shop or working in a confined space near a furnace or boiler.
What are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Exposure?
The earliest sign is a gradually intensifying headache. After that, you experience dizziness, sleepiness or nausea. Mental confusion often occurs, along with muscular weakness. These last two symptoms can make it difficult for an affected person to leave the hazardous area without assistance. Coma, convulsions and death follow if the victim is not moved into an environment that has fresh air.
How it’s Detected
Since you can’t smell, see or taste this gas, you have to use instruments for detecting its presence. There are hand-held detectors that change color when you pull air through them, as well as a range of electronic CO detectors. Blood samples from workers are also sometimes taken if low-level CO exposure is suspected.
How to Reduce your Risk
Ventilation is the primary answer to this question. Always make sure that plenty of fresh air is flowing through any space where you are exposed to combustion. Proper exhaust systems should be installed and maintained to direct CO safely away from work areas.
First Aid Care
First, the person must be moved away from the CO source and into fresh air. If you have 100 percent oxygen available, that should be administered for at least two hours. (It takes a long time to rid the body of accumulated carbon monoxide.) Keep the victim warm and still, because movement increases the body’s need for oxygen. They must be brought to a hospital as quickly as possible.
Protecting yourself and your workers from carbon monoxide gas is not difficult. Safety depends on simply understanding the need for proper ventilation around combustion processes.