Health and Safety ReportVolume 9, Issue 12

Tips and Tools

Carbon Monoxide: Silent But Deadlyprint this article

It's known as the silent killer - the poisonous gas that you can't see, smell, taste or touch. However what carbon monoxide (CO) lacks in personality, it makes up for in potency. CO poisoning is responsible for hundreds of deaths, and thousands of hospital visits every year in North America.
A common and deadly hazard, CO results from the incomplete burning of natural gas and any other material containing carbon such as gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal, or wood. Cigarette smoke and motor vehicle exhaust are also sources of CO.

Health Effects of CO

When we breathe in carbon monoxide, it interferes with the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen to the heart, brain, and other vital organs. Exposure to very high concentrations can overcome a person in minutes with few or no warning signs and result in coma or death. Hence the extreme danger of this gas.

The initial symptoms of poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include tightness across the chest, headache, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, or nausea. As symptoms worsen the victim may experience muscle weakness, vomiting, confusion, and even collapse, losing consciousness. The sense of confusion, caused by this gas, can interfere with the victim's ability to realize that their life is in danger.

Workplaces at risk

Internal combustion engines are the most common source of CO in the workplace. There is also a risk of exposure in boiler rooms, warehouses, petroleum refineries, blast furnaces, steel production and pulp and paper production. Farmers have been poisoned by CO while using motorized equipment such as gasoline pressure washers inside barns. While workers in confined spaces, such as mines are at risk, harmful levels of CO can also be present in large buildings or outdoor areas. Other occupations with risk of CO exposure are taxi drivers, welders and garage mechanics. Emergency workers entering uncontrolled environments without wearing a carbon monoxide detector have also been subject to serious injury and even death.

What employers can do*

  1. Install an effective ventilation system that will remove carbon monoxide from work areas.

  2. Maintain water heaters, space heaters, cooking ranges, and other potential CO-producing equipment in good working order.

  3. As an alternative to gasoline-powered equipment, use equipment powered by electricity, batteries, or compressed air.

  4. Install reliable CO detector alarms that give both visual and audible warnings immediately.

  5. Don't allow the use of gasoline-powered engines or tools in poorly ventilated areas.

  6. Test air quality regularly in areas where CO may be present, including confined spaces.

  7. Have your employees wear a certified, full-facepiece pressure-demand self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) or a combination full-facepiece pressure demand supplied-air respirator with auxiliary self contained air supply in areas with high CO concentrations.

  8. If your employees are working in confined spaces where the presence of CO is suspected, you must ensure that the air quality is tested before anyone enters.

  9. Educate workers who may be exposed to CO. They must know the sources and symptoms, how to protect themselves, how to recognize symptoms in co-workers, and how to respond in case of an emergency.

Employees have a part to play

Employees, too, can help prevent CO poisoning by reporting any potential CO hazards to the employer, and looking out for ventilation problems - especially in enclosed areas where gases of burning fuels may be released. Don't use gas-powered engines in an enclosed space. Report complaints of dizziness, drowsiness, or nausea if you suspect CO poisoning, and leave the contaminated area immediately. If you get sick, tell your doctor that you may have been exposed to CO.

Protect yourself from CO exposure at home

The news has been riddled with reports of deaths and illnesses from CO poisonings. We are in the cold weather months and many deaths occur as the result of defective or poorly operated home heating devices. Follow these life-saving tips to protect you and your family:

  • Install CO detectors in your home that have both audible and visual alarms. If battery-operated, replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.

  • Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't vented. Don't use an oven as a heat source.

  • When indoors, do not use portable flameless chemical heaters, gas camping stoves or generators and never burn charcoal.

  • Never run a car or truck in the garage with the garage door shut or in a garage that is attached to a house.

* Source: Based on information from OSHA Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Fact Sheet

Further information about Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide, IPCS INCHEM

Carbon Monoxide at the Work Site PDF, Work Safe Alberta

Carbon Monoxide, Canada Safety Council

Keep Carbon Monoxide Out of Your Home, Health Canada

Carbon Monoxide Questions and Answers, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission


Scholarship Winner's Advice to Students: "Go for it"print this article

In May of 2007 Craig Journeay of Milton, Nova Scotia, was one of three students to be awarded a $3000 Dick Martin Scholarship Award from CCOHS. At the time he was enrolled as a student in Occupational Health and Safety at Nova Scotia Community College-Pictou Campus. With the January 31, 2012 deadline for Dick Martin Scholarship Award submissions quickly approaching, we asked Craig to share his story and a few words of wisdom regarding his experience.

Tell us about your journey into workplace health and safety.

I started my safety career in the shipbuilding and repair industry. From there I worked on a Nuclear Power Plant Refurbishment project (first of its kind in the world for this type of reactor), eventually moving on to work on the construction of the first Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant in Canada. Once the LNG project was complete I took some time to invest in more professional development courses and plan my next career move. I considered potential opportunities in the sawmill industry, an opportunity overseas in Dubai, and ultimately chose to work with CEDA International, a group of diverse providers of industrial and specialty services. I knew the specialized type of work that CEDA performs would be a challenge for me to learn. But if we aren't challenged we can't grow, and this is what I wanted.

I have been employed for almost two and a half years as a level II HSE Advisor with CEDA. On occasion I have performed hands-on tasks with the crews when they required an extra hand. This provided me with incredible insight into the challenges the employees face during these tasks, and allowed me to relate to the employees better. The trust that the company has in me gives me the self confidence needed to do my job and the resources I have within the organization greatly contributes to my growth.

I recently transferred to Alberta from Saint John, New Brunswick and I just bought my first house. I love it here, but do miss my family in the East.

I am currently in the process of earning my CRSP designation and plan to challenge the exam in May 2012.

What impact (if any) did receiving the scholarship funds have on your life?

It was nice getting some recognition for the efforts I put into the (application essay) paper from friends and family in terms of my personal life. I always set goals for myself and winning this award was certainly one of them, so it was definitely a great accomplishment that I am proud of. Financially the implications of the award were tremendous. With my future uncertain upon graduation in terms of getting my foot in the door with a company with very little occupational health and safety experience coupled with my course, it was nice to make an early reduction in my student loan.

Do you have any words of wisdom to students who may be considering applying?

Go for it, if you are passionate about health and safety like I am, it is only natural to seek opportunities to show your knowledge and commitment to health and safety and at the same time challenge yourself. Financial reward aside, the sense of accomplishment and feeling that your paper could influence someone in a positive way is worth more than the monetary value of the achievement alone; at least it was for me. Keep in mind the intent of this scholarship is to keep the memory of Dick Martin alive; we need more Dick Martins in the world, so now is your chance to show that you mirror his beliefs and passion for safety excellence.

The January 31, 2012 deadline for Dick Martin Scholarship Award submissions is quickly approaching. To learn more about the Dick Martin Scholarship and how to apply, please visit the CCOHS website.

On Topic

Winter Driving Emergencies: Ready Or Not?print this article

Bitter cold, snow, slippery roads, and unpredictable weather conditions are just a few elements of a Canadian winter that can make driving conditions risky. You can't change the weather however you can prepare for it.

Firstly, if weather conditions are nasty, the safest thing to do is delay your trip and stay put until the road and weather conditions improve. If you really must drive, check the weather and road conditions before you head out and prepare yourself for any emergency that you may encounter. This means keeping a well-stocked winter driving emergency kit in your vehicle.

Keep the following items in your vehicle for emergencies:

Get unstuck

  • shovel
  • bag of sand, salt, kitty litter
  • traction mats
  • tire chains
  • tow chain
  • battery booster cables
  • spare tire, wheel wrench and jack

Keep it clear

  • snow brush
  • ice scraper
  • extra anti-freezing windshield wiper fluid
  • roll of paper towels or cloth

See and be seen

  • road flares, emergency lights or other colourful help signs
  • reflective vest
  • flashlight (and extra batteries)

Stranded? Stay safe and warm

  • blanket or sleeping bag
  • extra clothing, gloves and warm footwear
  • empty can for melting snow
  • matches or lighter
  • emergency candles to heat a drink or for heat (to be used only with a window opened to prevent build-up of carbon monoxide)
  • snack bars or other "emergency" food and water
  • insulated bottle of hot beverage
  • first aid kit


  • road maps
  • fire extinguisher
  • fuel line anti-freeze/ de-icer
  • a fully charged cell phone

Don't panic

If you get stuck in a storm or bad weather, don't panic. Take the necessary precautions to ensure that your vehicle will be seen by placing flares or help signs around the vehicle. Be sure it is safe to leave your vehicle before you do this to avoid getting hit by passing traffic. As much as possible, avoid overexerting yourself and exposing yourself to the cold and snow.

Call for help and use the contents of your emergency kit to stay safe and warm in your vehicle. Use your emergency candle carefully for heat and open your window slightly to ensure that you have a supply of fresh air. Don't run the engine with the window closed as you may become exposed to dangerous exhaust fumes.
Remember, we can't predict the weather, however we can prepare for it.

More information

Partner News

Ontario Inspection Blitz Targets MSDsprint this article

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) account for more than 40 percent of time lost from injury in the workplace. These injuries are a huge concern costing companies money and causing workers pain and suffering. And in February 2012, MSDs will be the target of a month-long inspection blitz by the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL). This MSD blitz will concentrate on manual material handling, especially in the industrial, construction, mining, and health care sectors.

MSDs are injuries of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, or spinal discs. They are caused by forceful exertion, awkward body positions, hand-arm and whole-body vibration, contact stress, and repetitive tasks. MSDs often take time to develop and can lead to chronic back pain, shoulder problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Get ready

The MOL suggests that organizations prepare for the upcoming inspections by taking steps now to reduce the risks of MSD injuries and protect their employees from injury:

  • Familiarize yourself with MSD hazards in your workplace.
  • Perform your own workplace audit.
  • Have a well-documented MSD program visibly in place, and implement MSD-specific strategies, tools and training.
  • Call the MOL to review hazards before an inspector comes knocking.

What to expect when an inspector arrives

The inspector will perform an administrative review including looking at:

  • how your workplace lives up to its roles under the Internal Responsibility System,
  • MSD injury statistics in your workplace,
  • joint health and safety committee (JHSC) minutes, and
  • written procedures and training on MSD hazards, signs, symptoms and controls.

Employers are required by law to take every reasonable precaution to protect workers from hazards, including those that may result in MSD injuries.

Implementing MSD controls

Reducing the risk of musculoskeletal injuries at your workplace involves recognizing, assessing and controlling the hazards. These controls should be specific to the type of work you do. Here are a few suggestions from the MOL:

  • When designing a new process or task, apply ergonomic principles, e.g., reducing repetitive movements, forceful movements, and fixed or awkward positioning.
  • Provide material handling equipment, such as carts, dollies, pallet jacks, or manual forklifts, and ensure workers receive appropriate training.
  • Train workers on proper lifting techniques.
  • Implement safer handling alternatives. For example:

    • Avoid lifting loads from the floor by storing objects above standing knuckle height and below standing shoulder height.
    • Avoid working on the floor, which usually requires kneeling and bending your back forward, by using a workbench to raise the work height.
    • Minimize work above the shoulders. Shoulder and arm muscles tire more quickly than those in the back and legs.
    • Encourage more trips with lighter loads. Moving smaller weights more frequently puts less stress on the back than moving larger weights.

  • Implement an exercise program to help prevent MSDs and promote general good health.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of these controls once they have been implemented, and adjust as indicated.

Helpful tools and resources

Learn with e-courses and webinars


Listen to the free podcast: Preventing Musculoskeletal Injuries

Download free posters: Weight Lifting Tips and Pick Up Tips on How to Lift Safely

Visit the MOL website for additional courses and resources.


Radiation Safety in the Workplaceprint this article

CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips and insights into the health, safety and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience...or on the go!

This month's edition of Health and Safety To Go features a two-part podcast series on radiation safety with the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada.

Radiation in the Workplace: The Safety Side

Join CCOHS and Claire Cohalan, Radiation Scientist at the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada for the second of this two-part mini-series on radiation in the workplace. This episode focuses on safety and how workers can protect themselves from radiation in the workplace.

The podcast runs 8:03 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.

Part one of the series is entitled Radiation in the Workplace: The Basics. This episode focuses on radiation basics such as what radiation is, where it can be found, and the health effects to workers.

The podcast runs 9:26 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.

See the complete list of podcast topics. Better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes and don't miss a single episode.

Last Word.

From the President's Deskprint this article

It's been another memorable year here at CCOHS complete with changes at the top, new initiatives and the ongoing challenges that come with keeping abreast of evolving health and safety issues in the workplace.

Listen to this special podcast as CCOHS President Steve Horvath reflects upon the past year, shares his vision for the new year, and extends his holiday wishes to you all.

Tell us what you think.
We welcome your feedback and story ideas.

Connect with us.

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