Carbon monoxide (CO) is a bi-product from the burning of fossil fuels that contain carbon (such as natural gas, gasoline, kerosene, propane, coal, wood, or oil). So any time there is a running engine, furnace, BBQ grill, oven or any of the like, CO is present. Carbon monoxide is poisonous, odorless, and tasteless gas, so without proper ventilation and alarms, it is very dangerous.
What makes CO so bad?
When inhaled, Carbon monoxide displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives the brain, heart, and vital organs of oxygen. Exposure to large amounts of CO will cause you to lose consciousness and suffocate, with long term damage to the internal organs.
- Short term symptoms: headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, chest pain
- Prolonged exposure symptoms: vomiting, confusion, loss of consciousness, weakness
- Young children and Elderly are most susceptible to poisoning sooner than healthy adults
You can recover from CO poisoning if action is taken quickly. Acute poisoning can result in permanent damage to parts of the body that rely heavily on oxygen like the heart and brain.
How to Help Someone Poisoned with CO
- Move the person to fresh air
- Call 911 or another emergency service that can come help and also advise you what to do next.
- If you can, provide oxygen through a tight fitting mask
- If the person has stopped breathing, administer CPR
*If you have to rescue someone, chances are the environment is still not safe. DO NOT attempt a confined space rescue without proper equipment to keep yourself safe.
How to Prevent CO Exposure
Although it really depends on the equipment and situation, there are some general actions you can take to minimize the risk.
- Install and maintain an effective ventilation system
- Consider the ducted vent on a water heater or furnace. Taping or sealing the joints and keeping the end of the exhaust clear and unobstructed.
- Prohibit the use of gasoline powered equipment indoors
- No generators, concrete saws, trash pumps, power washers, etc
- If working in a confined space, test the air quality before entering and monitor while you are in
- Working in an excavation or trench is considered a confined space. Running a water pump or generator in that space can contain CO and make a hazardous environment
- Educate new workers about the sources of CO in your work tasks, and how to watch for the symptoms of CO exposure.
As a colorless and odorless hazard, CO can be a silent killer. Training is important so workers can see the symptoms early and take prompt lifesaving actions. CO can be anywhere, and is heavier than oxygen so it settles in low areas. Replace gas powered tools with battery/electric options for indoor work, and maintain fresh air flow. CO poisoning comes with very serious affects to the brain and heart, do not take it lightly.
Questions for you
- Do you have CO detectors in your home and work place?
- Do you have any gas powered tools that you’ve used indoors? At the time did you considered how dangerous that is?
You might also find these Toolbox Talks helpful: Gasoline, Lead Poisoning, Diesel Exhaust