You can’t see it. You taste it. You can’t even smell it. Carbon monoxide (CO) creeps up on you. And when you finally notice its ill effects, it could be too late.
Each year, hundreds of workers in the United States fall prey to this colorless, odorless, poisonous gas – tragically losing their lives to something completely preventable. In this article, we’ll provide you with the practical steps for making your workplace safe from CO poisoning and other atmospheric hazards.
Install gas monitors
Install gas monitors in all fully or partially enclosed spaces where people work. This is a must. If there’s even a 1% chance of CO leaks and build up, having gas monitors onsite will enhance worker safety and confidence.
CO is a common industrial hazard resulting from the incomplete burning of material containing carbon such as gasoline, natural gas, propane, kerosene, oil, coal, or wood. It can even be produced by forges, blast furnaces and coke ovens. Internal combustion engines are the most common sources of exposure in the workplace according to OSHA. CO can lurk in tunnels, shafts, excavations, and areas where chemicals are stored or used.
The type of gas monitor you need depends on the variables in the worksite and the potential atmospheric hazards. To ensure you have the appropriate device, consult a qualified safety professional.
Conduct regular inspections
Hiring trained professionals to conduct regular inspections is pivotal to carbon monoxide prevention. These assessments involve a comprehensive evaluation of the entire workplace environment, including:
- Potential sources of CO buildup
- Equipment and other fuel-burning apparatus
- Heating and ventilation systems
Regular inspections allow you to identify issues or potential risks before they become hazards to your worksite. This might require installing new systems, repairs, maintenance, or replacing faulty equipment.
Ensure proper ventilation
Installing proper ventilation systems specific to the requirements of the worksite is a critical countermeasure against CO buildup. This is especially crucial in areas where the following activities are commonplace:
- Operating machinery
- Welding and similar combustion processes
- Storing chemicals and fossil fuels
Once you have the appropriate system installed, keep vents and flues free of debris. Fragments and other residual elements can block ventilation lines, trapping CO inside worksites. A qualified professional who services your ventilation system regularly ensures peak performance.
Don’t mix gas with confined spaces
Whenever possible, avoid using fuel-powered machinery and tools in confined areas. While you might think that the CO produced by something like a small gas-powered wet saw is negligible, just a few hours of using it in enclosed spaces can lead to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
Consider electric- or battery-operated options when possible. And if you must use fuel-burning equipment in enclosed or tighter spaces, equip your workers with respirators and portable gas detectors. The latter should provide audible, vibrating, and visual alarms that alert workers when atmospheric hazards reach dangerous levels.
Schedule regular equipment and system maintenance
When fuel-powered equipment, such as space heaters, generators, and power tools, are in optimal condition, it reduces CO emissions and minimizes the potential for CO leaks.
For instance, a well-maintained generator can reliably provide power without over-exerting itself or generating excess CO. Similarly, heating systems with routine maintenance remain efficient, keeping CO emissions to a minimum.
Moreover, take the time to read the equipment’s instruction manuals. This will allow you to adhere to manufacturers’ guidelines for their proper setup, use, and maintenance.
Provide personal protective equipment (PPE)
Ensure workers have access to appropriate PPE, especially in environments where CO exposure is more likely. Apart from gas monitors, this may include respirators. However, CO can pass straight through filters and cartridges. Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) units supply fresh air when the atmosphere may pose an immediate threat to life or health (IDLH). However, this may be overkill for common industrial settings. Ventilation really is key, paired with gas monitoring to ensure it is effective.
Remember, the choice of PPE should be based on a thorough assessment of the specific risks and conditions in the work environment.
Establish an emergency response plan
A comprehensive emergency response plan (ERP) outlines the precise steps workers must take in the event of a suspected (or confirmed) CO exposure. This ensures a swift and organized response.
An ERP for CO poisoning should include the following:
- Evacuation procedures: The plan should identify routes for evacuating the worksite in the event of a CO leak, including a designated assembly area where employees can be accounted for.
- First aid measures: This could include using respirators, administering oxygen, and calling 911.
- Chain of command: This involves identifying persons responsible for making decisions and coordinating the response.
When crafting your ERP, involve your workers. They can provide invaluable insights for matching the realities in the field with the appropriate procedures.
Create safety and awareness programs
Educate employees on how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure they understand the importance of reporting any suspected CO leaks or incidents and have a clear grasp of the safety protocols in place.
Some of the topics these programs could cover include:
- The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) standards
- Proper training on locating, using, and maintaining PPEs, gas detectors, and other safety equipment
Ultimately, an educated and well-informed workforce forms the bedrock of a safe and secure work environment. Reinforcing their knowledge with regular refresher training on carbon monoxide poisoning protection and safety keeps it that way.
With over 75 years in the safety business, PK Safety has vetted thousands of products, including gas detectors, confined space gear, and respirators from the world’s biggest brands.
For any concerns about carbon monoxide poisoning prevention, get in touch with our team of experts about safety supplies at PK Safety. We offer the latest and most reliable products, personalized support, and the best value for your money.