What is carbon monoxide (CO)?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a highly poisonous gas produced by the incomplete burning of natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas. Carbon monoxide is usually colourless, odourless and tasteless which means it can be very deadly and especially dangerous.
CO is often mixed with other gases that do have an odour, meaning you can inhale carbon monoxide with other gases that you can smell and not know that it is present.
Where is CO found?
CO is produced when fuels such as gas, oil, coal and wood do not burn fully which means it is a common industrial hazard. CO can be produced through cars, trucks and machinery, small engines including internal combustion engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges and furnaces.
CO can build up indoors, especially if devices, appliances and machinery are not in good working condition or have been installed without proper ventilation.
Who is at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide can cause significant harm and death to a range of employees exposed to gases in the workplace. This includes workers in boiler rooms, warehouses, refineries, steel production, those around docks, furnaces and ovens.
CO can also impact people in the following occupations:
- Garage mechanics
- Forklift operators
- Marine terminal workers
- Customs inspectors
- Taxi drivers
- Diesel engine operators
- Police officers
- Toll booth or tunnel attendants
It is important to remember that everyone is at risk of CO poisoning, especially in environments where gas appliances and devices are not correctly maintained or ventilated. Around 60 people die each year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in England and Wales.
How can CO affect you?
After carbon monoxide is breathed in, it enters your bloodstream through your lungs and mixes with haemoglobin (the part of red blood cells that carry oxygen) to form carboxyhaemoglobin. When this happens, the blood is no longer able to carry oxygen – this lack of oxygen causes your body’s cells and tissue to fail and die.
What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?
Carbon monoxide symptoms are not always obvious, particularly during low-level exposure. Symptoms can vary depending on the concentration of CO in the environment, the length of time you are exposed and your overall health. If you are exposed to CO in the workplace, you can develop:
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling and being sick
- Stomach pain
Workers with pre-existing health conditions, such as heart troubles, anaemia or respiratory ailments which affect the flow of oxygen in the bloodstream, may be more readily endangered by carbon monoxide exposure. Pregnant workers may also face special danger from CO.
How can employers help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?
To reduce the chances of CO poisoning in the workplace, employers should take the following steps:
- Install an effective ventilation system that will remove CO from work areas.
- Install and regularly test carbon monoxide monitors.
- Ensure that gas equipment is installed, commissioned and maintained by an appropriately qualified Gas Safe registered engineer.
- Consider switching from gas powered equipment to equipment powered by electricity, batteries or compressed air if it can be used safely.
- Prohibit the use of gas-powered engines and tools in poorly ventilated areas.
- Test air regularly in areas where CO may be present, including confined spaces.
- Educate workers about the sources and conditions that may result in CO poisoning as well as the symptoms and control of CO exposure. Share this article with them!
The Control and Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations says you must protect against risks from carbon monoxide. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has collated a range of advice to prevent the CO in the workplace using the Assess, Control and Review model. Click here to find out more.
What to do if you suspect carbon monoxide in the workplace
If you suspect CO in the workplace, it is important to immediately report it to reduce the chances of CO poisoning for yourself and your colleagues.
- Report any situation to your employer that may cause CO to accumulate.
- Be alert of ventilation problems, especially in enclosed areas where gases of burning fuels may be released.
- Report any signs of dizziness, drowsiness or sickness immediately.
- Evacuate the premises immediately
- Call the gas emergency number on 0800 111 999 to report the incident, or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Gas Safety Advice Line on 0800 300 363
How can Safe Shores Monitoring Help?
At Safe Shores Monitoring, our mission is to protect, assure and respond to individuals who face significant risk at work and at home; including employees who may be at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Using one of our lone worker safety products, such as the Companion Lone Worker Safety App, or the Chaperone Device, an employee can alert our 24-hour Alarm Receiving Centre of their wellbeing using our dedicated SOS button or TAG (Timed Activity Guard) function which is used to monitor employee safety whilst performing a hazardous task.
By using one of our lone worker safety solutions, employees who work in confined spaces or in hazardous environments involving gas can feel safer. Our products are designed to facilitate rapid response to protect your people.
Our 24-hour Alarm Receiving Centre is also built to respond to other kinds of alarms to protect your people and business, including alarms from gas monitoring equipment.