Podcast Title: Health and Safety to Go!

Episode #: 149: Carbon Monoxide : Odorless, Colourless, and Deadly


Introduction: Welcome to Health and Safety to Go, broadcasting from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Host:  Thanks for joining us. In today’s episode we’re talking about carbon monoxide in the workplace and what employers can do to protect their workers from carbon monoxide poisoning.

It's known as the silent killer - the poisonous gas that you can't see, smell, taste or touch. However what carbon monoxide lacks in personality, it makes up for in potency. Carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for hundreds of deaths, and thousands of hospital visits every year in North America. 

During the winter months, this deadly gas creeps back into the spotlight. The heightened concern is due in part to the increased use of furnaces, space heaters, and generators as we try to escape the cold, but also because of the use of fuel burning tools indoors.

Learning about carbon monoxide, and how to identify the signs and symptoms of poisoning is critical. Some initial symptoms mimic those of the flu (but without the fever). But don't be deceived, they can worsen very quickly. Implement safety measures to protect workers from this silent killer.

When we breathe carbon monoxide, it interferes with the ability of our blood to carry oxygen vital to our organs such as our brain and heart. The most common symptoms of exposure are headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and confusion. Prolonged or high exposures may lead to convulsions, coma and even death. Large amounts can cause a person to be overcome in just minutes with few or no warning signs. The mental impairment and sense of confusion brought on by this gas can interfere with the victim's ability to realize that their life is in danger and prevent them from getting to safety.

Another hazard of carbon monoxide is that it is an extremely flammable gas, which can easily ignite in air.

Carbon monoxide is produced when natural gas, coal, and other carbon fuels such as gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane or wood are not burned completely. Cigarette smoke and motor vehicle exhaust are also sources of carbon monoxide.

In the workplace, internal combustion engines (engines that burn the fuel inside the engine) are a common source of carbon monoxide. Workers can be exposed to this deadly gas in smelting operations, warehouses, construction sites, welding shops, steel production, and in areas with heavy vehicle traffic such as border crossings. While workers in confined spaces, such as mines or basements, are at a higher risk, harmful levels of carbon monoxide can also be present in large buildings and outdoor areas. Emergency workers entering uncontrolled environments without wearing a carbon monoxide detector have also been seriously injured or died as a result of being poisoned.

Everyone has a role to play in workplace health and safety. Here are 10 steps that employers can take to protect their employees from carbon monoxide poisoning:

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

·         Avoid operating fuel-powered machinery indoors where possible. When it is not possible, limit exposure times to these machines.

·         Make sure that potential sources of carbon monoxide such as furnaces, internal combustion engines and gas ranges are well-maintained.

·         Do not allow the use of gasoline-powered engines or tools in poorly ventilated areas.

·         Use equipment powered by electricity, batteries, or compressed air as an alternative to gasoline-powered equipment.

·         Eliminate heat and ignition sources such as sparks, open flames, hot surfaces and static discharge.

·         Install carbon monoxide detectors in working areas that will give immediate visual and audible warnings of the presence of this deadly gas before dangerous conditions develop.

·         Test air quality regularly in areas where carbon monoxide may be present, including confined spaces, before anyone enters the space.

·         Have your employees wear a certified, full-face piece pressure-demand self-contained breathing apparatus or a combination full-face piece pressure demand supplied-air respirator with auxiliary self-contained air supply in areas with high carbon monoxide concentrations.

·         Educate workers who may be exposed to carbon monoxide on the sources, symptoms of exposure, how to protect themselves, how to recognize symptoms in coworkers, and how to respond in case of an emergency.

We have some tips to share on creating employee awareness and action too! Employees should be able to recognize the sources of carbon monoxide, and the symptoms of exposure. Some basic guidance for employees includes:

Understanding the danger of carbon monoxide and taking adequate steps to reduce the presence and risks of exposure in the workplace can help create safer work environments and stop this silent killer.

For more information about carbon monoxide visit www.ccohs.ca. Thanks for listening everyone.