Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas which causes many deaths each year. It kills without warning because it has no smell or color.
It is a by-product of burning of organic fuels such as gasoline, diesel, wood, propane, natural gas, charcoal briquettes and other such materials. When these materials are burned in a poorly-ventilated space, carbon monoxide can build up and cause poisoning.
This poisoning can occur even when there is plenty of oxygen in the air. The carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the body’s circulatory system, quickly causing illness and even death.
These are some of the symptoms of CO poisoning:
Ringing in the ears
Poor co-ordination and weakness
Some of the symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure may be mistaken for other ailments such as allergies, the flu, exhaustion or a heart attack. Carbon monoxide poisoning can also be mistaken for intoxication from alcohol or drugs.
If carbon monoxide exposure is suspected, move immediately to fresh air. If the case is a mild one, this may be all that is required for the person to recover fully. However, more serious cases of exposure may require Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and medical attention. Oxygen may have to be administered.
In some workplaces, carbon monoxide is not merely an unwanted by-product of combustion, but is actually part of the process. Carbon monoxide elimination and control methods will vary greatly from one industry to the next.
However, here are some general tips on ways in which carbon monoxide exposure can be eliminated:
Switch to equipment which is operated by a power source other than organic fuels—such as electricity or batteries.
Keep any fuel-burning equipment in good condition so that it is burning efficiently. This would include fuel-burning engines, furnaces and heaters.
Separate the work area from the carbon monoxide hazard.
Ventilate the area. Local exhaust ventilation, or large complex systems may be required depending on circumstances.
Monitor the atmosphere to detect carbon monoxide levels.
Use supplied-air respiratory protection when the hazard cannot be eliminated.
Don’t forget about carbon monoxide hazards off the job too. Here are some safety tips:
Keep your automobile and its exhaust system in good repair.
Never run the engine in an enclosed space such as a garage.
If you must sit in a stationery vehicle with the engine running—to keep warm, for instance—be sure to open a window.
Keep all heaters and furnaces in good repair too, so that they will burn fuels completely.
Provide adequate ventilation for any heaters.
Never use a barbecue indoors. There have been a number of cases of carbon monoxide poisoning occurring as people tried to use barbecues indoors for cooking and heating during power outages.
Carbon monoxide is just one more reason not to smoke cigarettes. Tobacco smoke, including second-hand smoke, contains carbon monoxide.
Poisoning is not the only danger associated with carbon monoxide. It is also flammable and explosive. When it builds up in an enclosed area, it can explode if there is a source of ignition such as a match, cigarette or electrical spark.