Don’t Hibernate on Carbon Monoxide Risk

Many look forward to winter’s cozy atmosphere, but just because the bears are hibernating doesn’t mean that other dangers are. Has your carbon monoxide detector been checked recently?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “Carbon monoxide (CO) exposures and poisonings occur more often during the fall and winter, when people are more likely to use gas furnaces and heaters.” This may also be because most people are spending more time indoors, and there is a greater potential for ventilation systems to be blocked due to leaves, snow, ice, and other seasonal obstructions. But why is carbon monoxide such a concern?

Humans rely on their senses to perceive danger, and the most menacing threats are usually those that are hardest to detect. Unfortunately, carbon monoxide gas is not only highly toxic, but also virtually undetectable, it is:

Carbon monoxide is alternatively referred to as “the silent killer,” because individuals can easily be exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and not even realize it until it is too late. However, there are many simple countermeasures that can drastically reduce the likelihood of carbon monoxide poisoning.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a chemical compound that can be a byproduct of thermal combustion. Common sources include gas-operated generators, power tools, compressors, pumps, welding equipment, space heaters, and furnaces, as well as vehicles equipped with internal combustion engines. These common sources mean that most people encounter CO to some degree on a regular basis. However, CO exposure can become a hazard when:

Why is carbon monoxide so dangerous?

When we breathe, oxygen enters our system through the lungs and pairs up with hemoglobin, which transports it through the bloodstream. If CO is inhaled, it also pairs with hemoglobin, but at an exponentially faster rate than oxygen. This can swiftly cause the respiratory system to become flooded with CO instead of oxygen, causing suffocation and other complications to set in rapidly.

What are the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Since CO is so difficult to detect through the senses, the signs and symptoms of poisoning are one of the only tangible indicators of CO toxicity apart from mechanical alarms or detectors.

Warning signs of concentrated exposure include:

Results of prolonged exposure include:

Severe exposure can cause:

Depending on the situation and the concentration of CO in the air, this progression of symptoms can take a matter of hours, or mere minutes. Vulnerable individuals such as babies and children, the elderly, those with lung or heart disease, those living at high altitudes, or those who already have elevated CO blood levels, such as smokers, may succumb to exposure even more rapidly.

Sometimes, even those who are rescued and recover from CO poisoning still may suffer permanent effects such as nerve, brain, or heart damage. When it comes to prevention, the timing of both detection and response is critical.

How should someone respond to suspected carbon monoxide poisoning?

The following steps are recommended if you believe yourself or others are suffering from CO poisoning. Remember, time is of the essence, so encourage your employees to take swift and decisive action if they are at all suspicious of carbon monoxide as the culprit:

Remember, evacuating victims to an unaffected area is a vital first step, both to stop the damage the victim is experiencing, as well as to prevent responders from succumbing to poisoning themselves. Remaining in an affected area could further compromise victims, as well as cause responders to be overcome.

What are ways to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?

In addition, employees should be trained to recognize and report the following occurrences:

Carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable. Awareness and education are one of the most effective ways to prevent poisoning injuries among your workforce, and regularly maintained carbon monoxide detectors are a must. Don’t hibernate on carbon monoxide risk – protect yourself and others this winter and all year round.

Information for this article was taken from the following sources:

OSHA Fact Sheet

OSHA Archive News Release

Communications Workers of America: Carbon Monoxide and the Workplace

Medical News Today: Carbon Monoxide (CO), the silent killer