Are You Safeguarding Your Workers from Carbon Monoxide Exposure?

Source: Kheng Guan Toh - 123RF

OSHA is reminding employers to take necessary precautions to protect workers from the serious and potentially fatal effects of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure.

Recent incidents highlight the need to educate employers and employees about the dangers of carbon monoxide exposure from portable generators and other equipment in enclosed spaces.

CO is a colorless, odorless, and toxic gas, so it is important that employers and employees alike know the symptoms of overexposure.

These can include headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, or tightness across the chest. Severe carbon monoxide over-exposure can cause neurological damage, coma, and death.

Every year, carbon monoxide poisoning claims the lives of employees nationwide, usually when fuel-burning equipment and tools are used in buildings or semi-enclosed spaces without adequate ventilation.

The danger increases during the winter months when this type of equipment is used in indoor areas that have been sealed tightly to block out cold temperatures and wind.

In addition to portable generators and space heaters, sources of carbon monoxide can include anything that uses combustion to operate, such as power tools, compressors, pumps, welding equipment, furnaces, gas-powered forklifts, and motorized vehicles.

To reduce the risk of carbon monoxide exposure in the workplace, employers should install an effective ventilation system, avoid the use of fuel-burning equipment and vehicles in enclosed or partially-enclosed spaces, and use carbon monoxide detectors in areas where the hazard may exist.

Employers should also take other precautions as outlined in OSHA’s Carbon Monoxide Fact Sheet.

Additional OSHA resources include videos (in English and Spanish), QuickCards (in English and Spanish) and a fact sheet on portable generator safety.