Origins of Carbon Monoxide in the Workplace
Carbon monoxide is perhaps the most subtle, but also the most dangerous, of the hazards that can be found in the modern workplace. The nature of carbon monoxide means that it can be present without being detected, which means it can cause harm to health or even death before anyone knows it’s there. By knowing the origins of carbon monoxide in the workplace and what is required to maintain carbon monoxide safety, you’ll be able to better protect yourself, your employees, and your customers.
Why is Carbon Monoxide a Danger?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced during the process of combustion. It is an extremely harmful, poisonous substance that can cause severe injury or even death. Any engine, HVAC system, or device that uses combustible fuel, or any material that can be burned, can produce CO. The gas cannot be detected by human senses and is, essentially, completely invisible. Carbon monoxide interferes with the blood’s ability to pick up oxygen and distribute it throughout the body.
Oxygen deprivation affects all bodily systems and organs, especially the lungs and brain. Symptoms of CO exposure can include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. More severe exposures can cause convulsions and death. It only takes about three hours of exposure for CO to become a threat to life. One of the greatest dangers of CO is that it cannot be detected, and that it can be present and causing damage without being noticed until it’s too late.
Many of the deaths attributed to residential CO poisoning happen when individuals are exposed to the gas in their sleep. In commercial settings, CO poisoning can occur when fuel-burning equipment is used in poorly ventilated areas, allowing the gas to accumulate to dangerous levels. Even relatively large areas can hold enough carbon monoxide to be a threat to health and safety.
Carbon Monoxide in the Workplace
Carbon monoxide in the workplace can originate in many locations and from numerous devices or pieces of equipment. Some of the most common producers of CO in the workplace include:
- Natural gas furnaces, boilers, or other heating systems.
- Propane-fueled forklifts.
- Gasoline engines in trucks, cars, or other motor vehicles.
- Pressure washers.
- Concrete cutters.
- Air compressors.
- Water pumps.
- Leaf blowers.
- Lawn mowers.
- Snow blowers.
- Chainsaws or gas-fueled trimmers.
- Propane-powered floor polishers and cleaners.
- Natural gas ovens, stoves, and other food cooking and preparation equipment.
- Kerosene-fueled space heaters. The burning of material can also produce carbon monoxide.
This can include any combustible items such as paper, wood, cardboard, or plastics.
Carbon Monoxide Safety
- The dangers of carbon monoxide in the workplace mean that particular care must be taken to ensure the safety of everyone in your commercial facility.
- Include information on the dangers of carbon monoxide during employee orientation. Provide regular refresher training on the hazards of CO.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors throughout your commercial facility as appropriate. Consult with local fire and safety authorities to determine any regulatory requirements for CO detectors. Ensure correct placement to prevent false alarms or excessive triggering of the detector. Combine CO detectors with smoke alarms and test these safety devices regularly.
- Ensure adequate ventilation and air circulation in your commercial facility. This could include installing fans, specialized ventilation systems, or other equipment that keeps air moving.
- Practice safe operation of equipment, tools, and devices that generate carbon monoxide, especially when using them indoors.
- Make sure HVAC systems such as furnaces and boilers are properly vented to send exhaust gases outdoors. In addition, ensure proper venting of exhaust gases from permanently installed equipment such as ovens and cooking stoves.
Our goal is to help educate our customers about Plumbing, HVACR, Fire Protection, and Alarm Systems in Mechanical, Commercial, and Residential settings. For more information on carbon monoxide in the workplace, improving carbon monoxide safety in your commercial facility, or to view projects we’ve worked on, visit our website!