Symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to food poisoning and flu, producing drowsiness, headaches, chest pain, breathlessness or nausea. The most sensitive areas in the body are the heart and nervous system and workers with heart, lung and respiratory problems are most susceptible, as are pregnant women and smokers.
How to Manage CO in Your Workplace
- In practical terms, you can address this silent killer by drawing up a floor plan for your workplace. Don’t forget to include any confined spaces.
- Next, identify all potential and actual sources of CO – include equipment, processes and storage – and risk assess each. Consider employees who use petrol, diesel or gas-driven tools and appliances such as floor grinders, concrete cutting tools, compressors, diesel forklift trucks or small mobile plants. Remember that cabs in vehicles which have defective exhaust systems can also be affected by CO.
- Where possible, change from petrol or diesel-powered equipment to equipment which is powered by batteries or electricity, if practicable to do so. If not, do not use petrol or diesel-powered engines or tools in poorly ventilated areas, inside your building or in partially enclosed areas.
- Determine your workers’ exposure by carrying out an indoor air quality assessment. Current workplace exposure limits should not exceed 30ppm for long-term exposure and 200ppm for short-term exposure.
- Implementing engineering controls such as local exhaust ventilation will remove CO before it is released into the workplace. Ensure ventilation ducts are not blocked.
- Ensure appliances have been properly installed and are maintained by a competent person.
- Train employees on how to recognise the hazards that can lead to CO poisoning and ensure you place hazard warning labels on any equipment, tools or appliances likely to produce CO.
- Only allow authorised personnel to operate equipment, tools and appliances which are likely to produce CO. All such personnel must receive adequate training, information and instruction.
- Use CO monitors with audible alarms or personal CO monitors where a risk of exposure exists. However, these should be provided as a back-up and not as a substitute for a safe system of work.
The responsibility for a safe workplace falls squarely on your shoulders. Don’t let this silent killer catch you out.
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