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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in the Workplace

According to the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), carbon monoxide poisoning is a very real concern in many workplaces. You may be at risk to exposure to harmful levels of carbon monoxide if you work in any of the following places:

  • Breweries;
  • Boiler rooms;
  • Petroleum refineries;
  • Warehouses;
  • Pulp and paper production;
  • Steel production;
  • Around docks;
  • Around blast furnaces; and
  • Around coke ovens.

You may also be at risk if you work in one of the following occupations:

  • Welder;
  • Diesel engine operator;
  • Garage mechanic;
  • Fire fighter;
  • Forklift operator;
  • Marine terminal worker;
  • Carbon-black maker;
  • Customs inspector;
  • Toll booth attendant;
  • Tunnel attendant;
  • Organic chemical synthesizer;
  • Police officer;
  • Taxi driver;
  • Metal oxide reducer; and
  • Longshore worker.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a gas that is tasteless, odorless, colorless, and, most importantly, poisonous.  Carbon monoxide is considered a common industrial hazard.  It is the result of the incomplete burning of natural gas and any other material containing carbon, such as kerosene, propane, oil, gasoline, coal, and wood.  While blast furnaces, forges, and coke ovens produce carbon monoxide, one of the most common sources of carbon monoxide exposure in the workplace is the internal combustion engine.

How Does Carbon Monoxide Cause Harm?

When inhaled, carbon monoxide displaces oxygen in the blood.  This deprives the brain, heart, and other vital organs of the oxygen needed to continue to function properly.   One can be overcome in just minutes when exposed to large amounts of carbon monoxide.  This can happen with very little warning.  It is important to know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning in order to protect yourself.

What Are the Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

The initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include tightness across the chest, fatigue, headache, dizziness, nausea, or drowsiness.  People with angina my experience sudden chest pain.  During prolonged exposure or high amounts of exposure to carbon monoxide, symptoms may worsen.  They may also include confusion, vomiting, collapse, muscle weakness, and loss of consciousness.  The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning vary widely from person to person.  Young people, elderly people, people at high altitudes, people with heart disease and lung disease, as well as smokers can experience the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning more quickly.

What to Do if You or Someone Else May Have Been Subjected to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

If you suspect that you have been exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning, or if you suspect a co-worker is experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning, the following actions can save lives:

  • Immediately move the victim to an open area with fresh air;
  • Call 911;
  • If the victim is breathing, use a tight fitting mask to administer 100 percent oxygen;
  • If the victim has stopped breathing, administer CPR if you have been properly trained to do so on victims of carbon monoxide poisoning.  NOTE: It is critical to only take this step if you have been properly trained.  You may be exposed to fatal levels of carbon monoxide poisoning in a rescue attempt.  If you are not skilled at performing recovery operations and using recovery equipment, do not attempt this step.

Steps an Employer Should Take to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

While it may not be possible to eliminate the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the chances of its occurrence.  First, an effective ventilation system should be installed to remove carbon monoxide from work areas.  This system should be maintained on a regular schedule in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.  Next, all appliances and equipment that can produce carbon monoxide should be identified.  This could include space heaters, water heaters, and cooking ranges, for example.  Once identified, they should be inspected on a regular schedule to ensure that they are in good working order.  Employees should be educated on the safe operation of these appliances and equipment.  Equipment that is powered by gasoline should be identified and evaluated for effectiveness.  Consideration should be given to switching to equipment powered by compressed air, batteries, or electricity.  Additionally, gasoline powered engines and gasoline powered tools should never be used in poorly ventilated areas.

Employers should provide employees with personal carbon monoxide monitors that emit audible alarms when the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning is present.  In spaces where carbon monoxide may be present, especially in confined spaces, the air should be tested regularly.  Carbon monoxide monitors with audible alarms should also be installed.  Where there are high concentrations of carbon monoxide, the use of full facepiece pressure demand self-contained breathing apparatus that has been certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health should be used.  For areas where carbon monoxide levels are not exceedingly high but still present, respirators with appropriate canisters should be used for short periods of exposure.

Finally, education of the employees about the sources of potential carbon monoxide poisoning, and the conditions that can result in carbon monoxide poisoning is critical.  Additionally, employees should be educated about the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, and the appropriate rescue steps to take.

Steps Employees Can Take to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

To reduce the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning, employees should report any situation that they observe which could lead to carbon monoxide buildup.  They should promptly report signs of dizziness, nausea, or drowsiness.  Employees must be alert to ventilation problems, particularly in enclosed areas.

When carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, employees should leave the contaminated area immediately.  Employees should not operate gas powered engines in enclosed spaces.  Finally, if an employee gets sick, they should tell their doctor if they are concerned that they may have been exposed to carbon monoxide.

If You Have Been Exposed to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, or If You Have Lost a Loved One Due to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

If you or a loved one have been exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning in the workplace, or if you have lost a loved one due to carbon monoxide poisoning on the job, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, as well as out of pocket costs.  The skilled work injury lawyers in Atlanta at Bader Scott Injury Lawyers are well versed in representing people who suffer workplace injury.  Contact us today for a free consultation.


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Seth Bader
(678) 562-5595