Carbon monoxide is one of the most dangerous and widespread industrial hazards. In extreme cases, it can kill.

Workers have suffered from a range of short-term health effects. Some have collapsed at work and required resuscitation while others have died. That’s why even at work, it is important to stay vigilant.

Who is at risk?

You may be exposed to harmful levels of CO in cool stores, freezer rooms, breweries, warehouses, petroleum refineries, and steel coke ovens; or in one of the following occupations:

  • Welder
  • Constructions Workers
  • Forklift operator
  • Garage mechanic
  • Carbon-black maker
  • Organic chemical synthesizer
  • Metal oxide reducer
  • Longshore worker
  • Diesel engine operator
  • Firefighter
  • Police Officer

Portable Generators

Before undertaking work using generators in confined or poorly ventilated areas, whether petrol, diesel or LPG, workers should consider another means of power. If there is no other source of energy available then only should a generator be considered.

Some of the precautions workers (or anyone using a generator) should take include:

  • When operating portable generators, the generator should be placed on a firm, steady surface or ground and be kept away from the heat.  It should also always be operated in well-ventilated spaces and never in low-lying areas because vapours could collect and ignite causing a fire or suffocation.
  • Another hazard is presented when generators are moved or transported. Workers should allow the motor of the generator to cool down and keep it in an upright position while doing so.
  • Generator should be placed in a well-ventilated space until it has cooled.

What can employees do to help prevent CO poisoning?

Employees should do the following to reduce the chances of CO poisoning in the workplace:

  • Report any situation to your employer that might cause CO to accumulate.
  • Be alert to ventilation problems—especially in enclosed areas where gases of burning fuels may be released.
  • Report promptly complaints of dizziness, drowsiness, or nausea.
  • Avoid overexertion if you suspect CO poisoning and leave the contaminated area.
  • Tell your doctor that you may have been exposed to CO if you get sick.
  • Avoid the use of gas-powered engines, such as those in powered washers as well as heaters and forklifts, while working in enclosed spaces.

How can you get more information on safety and health?

Employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 to control risks for the health and safety of employees. These risks may include exposure to carbon monoxide.

As part of managing the risk associated with CO, all workers who could potentially be affected by CO should be provided with information, instruction and training on how to control this risk.  Employers must also provide the supervision necessary to ensure effective risk controls for CO are implemented.

For further information, talk to your organisation’s OH&S officer or contact your state work health & safety regulator.