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Carbon monoxide - a silent killer

It makes no sound. It has no smell. You can't see it. You may not know it's there until it's too late. It's called carbon monoxide, and it poses a danger to workers in a wide variety of occupations.

Anyone who works in an enclosed space where material is burning faces a serious and potentially fatal risk from carbon monoxide. Those who can be affected include mine workers, forklift operators, furnace repair technicians, firefighters, and auto mechanics working in shops with propane, gas, or kerosene heaters.

In this blog post, we will examine the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, steps you can take to avoid being poisoned, and what to do if you or a co-worker suffers ill effects from exposure to carbon monoxide.

Recognize the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is usually produced through the incomplete combustion of materials containing carbon. When carbon monoxide enters the bloodstream through the lungs, it prevents the body from absorbing oxygen. When a person suffers prolonged deprivation of oxygen, it can result in unconsciousness, brain damage, and eventually death.

In the initial stages of carbon monoxide poisoning, a person may experience flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Extreme nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Visual disturbances

Any of these symptoms can appear within minutes of exposure to carbon monoxide.

How to minimize the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning

These are some of the things you can do to minimize or avoid the possibility of injury:

  • Find out whether your workplace complies with OSHA's CO permissible exposure limit.
  • Try to avoid the use of small engines in enclosed spaces whenever possible.
  • If you do have to operate a gas or propane-powered tool inside, open a door or window and make sure adequate outside air enters the space.
  • Consider using tools powered by electricity or compressed air. If you use a gas-powered compressor, put the compressor outside and away from any air intakes.
  • Purchase and install an inexpensive carbon monoxide detector, available from any home improvement store or a safety supply provider. Periodically check the batteries to make sure the unit has sufficient power.

What to do if someone has been poisoned by carbon monoxide

  • If you suffer symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, then get out of the space you are in. Get your co-workers out as well.
  • If someone is unconscious, get that person outside as quickly as possible.
  • Go to an emergency room as soon as possible.
  • Get a carbon monoxide blood test at the emergency room.

Receiving treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning quickly can increase the chances of recovery.

If you have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning while working or family member has died, you may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. Speak with an attorney to learn about your legal options.

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