It’s a killer you can’t see, taste or smell. Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen due to gas powered tools running in a confined space. But with common sense precautions, workers can stay safe.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is the invisible gas given off from burning fossil and wood fuels. Even in small concentrations, it reduces oxygen carried in the bloodstream. Symptoms of headaches, dizziness and confusion come on quickly, often leaving no time to escape to fresh air.
Workers will be safe from carbon monoxide poisoning if they use the correct tools and have CO training. Also critical are ventilation, monitoring, safety signs, and, if necessary, a breathing apparatus.
intro music and effects
Dan Clark: Hello world, this is Dan Clark of The Safety Brief. This is where we talk about health and safety hazards in today’s demanding industrial and construction worksites.
Carbon monoxide. Dangerous gas. Dangerous in the home, but still we hear about people who bring a hibachi barbecue indoors because it’s raining outside, and sadly people die. Many homes now have carbon monoxide detectors, but this deadly gas is actually a bigger problem on job sites. I’ll get to that in a moment.
But first, what is carbon monoxide? The chemical name is CO. Now, this is not CO2, carbon dioxide. That’s the stuff plants give off. Carbon monoxide is the byproduct of burning fuels—gasoline, natural gas, oil, propane, coal or wood as examples.
Carbon monoxide, CO, sneaks up on you because it can’t be seen, tasted or smelled. And it’s very dangerous because it really slows down the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. The brain is the first to be affected. Initial symptoms: headache, dizziness, drowsiness. Second symptoms: fast breathing and confusion.
In the workplace carbon monoxide is a huge risk if you’re running gear that burns gas—power tools, portable generators, or gas fueled space heaters. Now, here’s an example of two workers who were killed, as documented by OSHA. The two workers were cutting window holes in a concrete wall in a basement using a gas powered wet saw. Every time they cut a new window hole in the concrete, they sealed it up to stop debris from falling in. Because of this, no ventilation. And the gas powered wet saw continued to operate and carbon monoxide filled the room. By the time the workers began having symptoms it was too late and they weren’t able to escape the basement.
Here are six ways to reduce risk of carbon monoxide poisoning on the job site.
#1. Tools. Avoid using gas powered tools in closed spaces. Choose electric or battery-powered tools when you can.
#2. Training. Let your workers know about the risks of CO exposure. If you do, they’ll be safer and won’t need as much supervision at the jobsite.
#3. Ventilation. At least have passive ventilation. Open the windows. But that may not be enough—an active system of fans or air filtration may be necessary.
#4. Monitoring. Install carbon monoxide alarms where and when you can. Use CO monitoring machines in enclosed spaces before and during work.
#5. Safety signs. Post signs that list the health risks of carbon monoxide.
#6. Breathing apparatus. If CO exposure is unavoidable, give your workers breathing systems. The masks must have airtight seals. These systems can be expensive, but it’s worth it to save a life.
So consider carbon monoxide in the workplace. As a safety manager, this subject lands right in your lap. You are the one responsible.
That’s it for this episode. Come back for more ways to stay safety compliant in today’s ever-changing landscape of safety requirements. I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief, sponsored by Creative Safety Supply. See the website at creativesafetysupply.com
Video on carbon monoxide poisoning from OSHA:
See the carbon monoxide poisoning fact sheet from OSHA here.