Carbon monoxide poisoning is a leading cause of workplace fatalities in the United States. It is an odorless and colorless gas that inhibits the oxygen-carrying capability of the blood. It can kill a person without warning.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide poisoning accounts for over 15,000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths annually. The CDC sourced statistics from the National Poison Data System (NPDS), a surveillance system that profiles and monitors carbon monoxide poisoning incidences across the country. These CO exposures are non-fire-related CO exposures, including both that were mitigated onsite, and not treated at a health care facility.
OSHA-protected workers who are at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning include those that operate gasoline-powered tools and generators in semi-enclosed or confined spaces that don’t provide enough ventilation for workers. OSHA.gov lists the following sources of CO exposure:
- Concrete cutting saws, or compressors
- Heaters, trowel machines, and floor buffers
- Welding tools and gasoline-powered pumps
Recognizing the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning is a skill taught during OSHA safety training. It is important to know the following signs:
- Headaches, dizzy or lethargic
- Feeling sick, vomiting or shortness of breath
Without prevention, carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to severe neurological damage, coma or death.
Preventing occupational exposure to carbon monoxide essentially involved properly ventilating areas where gas emitted by gasoline-powered engines may gather or be trapped. OSHA reminds workers of the following measures when using such devices:
– Be careful when using generators indoors especially in partially-enclosed or confined spaces that include garages, basements and crawl spaces. Make sure that the enclosed space has at least one window or door open to prevent CO retention.
– Position the generator at least three to four feet away from the roof and walls to ensure proper ventilation of surrounding spaces.
– Do not place generators near doors, windows or vents where CO can seep in and build up in populated spaces.
– Check space heaters and gas stoves for any damages as they tend to emit more CO when not in good working condition. As with generators, do not use these appliances in enclosed, indoor spaces.
– As much as possible, opt for electricity-powered or tools that run on compressed air.
– Get some fresh air and seek proper medical attention when you experience symptoms of CO poisoning.
Workplace safety training for CO occupational exposure is as important as knowing how to properly operate construction tools and equipment. Know more about CO poisoning by visiting OSHA’s page on carbon monoxide exposure.