Carbon Monoxide—Not Just a Winter Safety Hazard

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When you think of carbon monoxide as a safety hazard, you may instinctively associate it with the winter and improper use of portable heaters. (That’s why the OHS laws across Canada have portable heater requirements.) But space heaters aren’t the only pieces of equipment that can expose workers to this hazardous gas.

For example, nine workers were recently overcome by carbon monoxide fumes inside an Abercrombie & Fitch store at a New York mall. Seven were taken to hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries.

Officials said the workers were using a propane-powered machine to remove flooring inside the store. The machine emitted low levels of carbon monoxide. And because the workers were in a confined area, they were overcome by the fumes.

These workers were lucky. Others exposed to carbon monoxide in the workplace weren’t so fortunate:

According to an Alberta safety bulletin, aside from portable heaters, other possible sources of carbon monoxide in the workplace include:

  • Internal combustion engines
  • Kilns
  • Furnaces and boilers
  • Welding
  • Moulding of plastics
  • Forging, ceramic, petroleum, steel and waste management industries
  • Improperly adjusted oil or gas burners.

It’s very important that workers use the above equipment or perform the above jobs in properly ventilated spaces so that carbon monoxide can’t build up, especially in a confined space.

To protect workers from carbon monoxide, do the following:

  • Install an effective ventilation system
  • Properly maintain equipment and appliances that can produce carbon monoxide
  • If possible, switch from gasoline- or propane-powered equipment to equipment powered by electricity, batteries or compressed air
  • Bar the use of gasoline- or propane-powered engines or tools in poorly ventilated areas
  • Give workers personal carbon monoxide monitors
  • Test air regularly in areas where carbon monoxide may be present
  • Train workers on the sources and conditions that may result in carbon monoxide poisoning and the symptoms of exposure to the gas.

And for training resources on carbon monoxide, such as safety talks for workers, go to SafetySmart.com. Not a Safety Smart member? Sign up for a free trial.