Carbon monoxide poisoning is a common cause of death in the workplace. Employers have a duty of care to their employees and customers to prevent toxic exposures in the workplace. When toxic exposure is suspected, workers should seek immediate treatment to mitigate life-threatening consequences.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Exposure
Carbon monoxide exposure causes headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, and tightness within the chest. These symptoms generally appear very soon after exposure. It is essential that employees closely monitor their health condition and pursue prompt treatment when exposure is suspected. Significant exposure to CO can result in neurological damage, prolonged breathing difficulties, coma, or death. The risk is greatest for individuals with compromised immune systems, COPD, asthma, or heart problems.
Sources of Carbon Monoxide Exposure
There are many potential sources of carbon monoxide poisoning in the workplace. These include portable generators, gasoline-powered tools, welding equipment, space heaters, etc. Many of these have safety warnings that advise against their use indoors. However, many employers ignore these warnings or fail to train employees not to use these devices in contradiction of established safety precautions.
Welders, mechanics, firefighters, diesel engine operators, forklift operators, police officers, taxi drivers, and those who work in the production of metal or paper goods are at significant risk of carbon monoxide exposure in the workplace. These individuals work with blast furnaces, boilers, ovens, and other tools that generate considerable carbon monoxide during operations. If sensors or other safety devices on these machines fail, workers can inadvertently find themselves working in a dangerous environment.
Preventing Exposures in the Workplace
Employers have a duty of care to employees to prevent the risk of exposure to toxic levels of carbon monoxide gas. Effective measures include properly training employees to handle and operate equipment, ensuring that CO producing equipment is operated only in well-ventilated areas, and repairing or replacing any damaged equipment before it is returned to use.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration is cracking down on carbon monoxide risks in the workplace. They are directing an increasing number of resources to counter the threat. As one of the most common causes of workplace injuries, OSHA is actively pursuing employers who negligently place workers at risk. As part of their efforts, they are assessing an increasing number of fines and other penalties to protect workers from CO poisoning.