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Hazards of Carbon Monoxide

What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a poisonous, colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas generated as a waste product of the incomplete combustion of coal, wood, oil, and other petroleum-based fuels, such as gasoline and propane. Although carbon monoxide gas is odorless it usually occurs in a combination of combustion by-products that have distinctive odors. The primary source of CO gas is the internal combustion engine. CO gas is also generated in industrial operations such as auto repair, oil refining, steel, and chemical manufacturing.
Hazards of Carbon Monoxide
Health Hazards:
Carbon monoxide is a chemical asphyxiant which means that it reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Asphyxiation, or suffocation, occurs when the blood does not deliver enough oxygen to the body.
CO gas is absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream. Inhalation of carbon monoxide may cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness, rapid breathing, unconsciousness, and death. High concentrations of carbon monoxide may be rapidly fatal without producing significant warning symptoms.

Exposure to this gas may aggravate preexisting heart and artery disease. As carbon monoxide gas is odorless, there may be no odor warning if toxic concentrations are present.
If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, move the person immediately to the fresh air away from the source of the CO. Call 911 or your emergency number for medical assistance. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be reversed if caught in time.

Safety Hazards:
Carbon monoxide gas mixes very well with air and can penetrate easily through walls and ceilings. It is an extremely flammable gas that react very strongly with oxygen, acetylene, chlorine, fluorine, or nitrous oxide.

Who is at Risk?
Workers most likely to be exposed to carbon monoxide are welders, mechanics, firefighters, long shore workers, diesel engine operators, forklift drivers, toll booth or tunnel attendants, police, taxi drivers, shipping and receiving workers and warehouse personnel.
Methods of Control of Carbon Monoxide
To reduce the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning in the workplace:
  • Install a ventilation system that will effectively remove carbon monoxide from the work area.
  • Properly maintain equipment that may produce carbon monoxide to enhance safe operation and to reduce CO generation.
  • Consider switching from gasoline-powered equipment to battery or electric equipment.
  • Prohibit the use of gasoline-powered equipment indoors or in poorly ventilated areas.
  • Consider installing carbon monoxide detectors with audible alarms.
  • Educate workers about the sources, hazards, and controls of carbon monoxide.
What Can You Do to Help?
  • Report any situation to your employer that might cause carbon monoxide to build up.
  • Pay attention to ventilation problems, especially in enclosed areas.
  • Avoid the use of gas-powered equipment in enclosed spaces.
More Information
For more detailed information visit the website maintained by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. If you have any health concerns or questions, contact your health care provider.
The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.