Safety Moment – Carbon Monoxide

January 30, 2019 | Posted in Safety

Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body. It is produced as a result of incomplete burning of carbon-containing fuels including coal, wood, charcoal, natural gas and fuel oil. It can be emitted by combustion sources such as:

  • Kerosene and gas space heaters
  • Furnaces
  • Wood stoves and charcoal stoves (i.e. grills)
  • Gas stoves
  • Fireplaces and water heaters
  • Gas and diesel powered engines
  • Tobacco smoke

Risk of Carbon Monoxide Exposure

  • Riding in the back of enclosed pickup trucks (particularly high risk)
  • Industrial workers at pulp mills, steel foundries, and plants producing formaldehyde or coke
  • Those working indoors with combustion engines
  • Back drafting when a boat is operated at a high bow angle.

Carbon monoxide interferes with the distribution of oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body. A person with carbon monoxide poisoning with often has bright or cherry red skin. Depending on the amount inhaled, this gas can cause or contribute to the following:

  • Headache (early sign)
  • Dizziness (early sign)
  • Nausea (early sign)
  • Impede coordination
  • Worsen cardiovascular conditions
  • Produce fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired judgment
  • Very high levels can cause death

Fetuses, infants, elderly, and people with heart and respiratory illnesses are particularly at high risk for the adverse health effects of carbon monoxide.

If you have symptoms that you think could be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, leave the area right away, and call or go to the emergency room. If you keep breathing the fumes, you may pass out and die.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur suddenly or over a long period of time.  Breathing low levels of carbon monoxide over a long period can cause severe heart problems and brain damage.

It can be hard to know if you have carbon monoxide poisoning. The same symptoms can be caused by flu or other problems. In the winter months, doctors may suspect carbon monoxide poisoning in people who complain of severe headache, nausea, or dizziness. This is especially true if other household members or coworkers have the same symptoms. Even pets in the home may get sick.

How is it treated?

The best treatment is oxygen therapy. Breathing pure oxygen can bring the oxygen level in the blood back to normal. There are two kinds of oxygen therapy:

  • 100% oxygen therapy = For this treatment, you breathe oxygen through a mask. This is the most common treatment.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy = For this treatment, you lie inside a chamber that delivers oxygen under high pressure. This quickly reduces carbon monoxide levels in the blood.

With quick treatment, most people recover within a few days. But long-term problems can show up later. Be sure to tell your doctor about any changes in vision, coordination, or behavior that occur in the weeks after treatment.

What Can Be Done to Prevent CO Poisoning?

  • Ensure that appliances are properly adjusted and working to manufacturers’ instructions and local building codes.
  • Obtain annual inspections for heating system, chimneys, and flues and have them cleaned by a qualified technician.
  • Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
  • Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
  • Do not use ovens and gas ranges to heat your home.
  • Do not burn charcoal inside a home, cabin, recreational vehicle, or camper.
  • Make sure stoves and heaters are vented to the outside and that exhaust systems do not leak.
  • Do not use unvented gas or kerosene space heaters in enclosed spaces.
  • Never leave a car or lawn mower running in the garage, even if the garage door is open.
  • Do not ride in the back of a pickup with a camper shell.
  • Make sure your furnace has adequate intake of outside air.
  • Do not swim behind an idling boat.

Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors can be used as a backup but not as a replacement for proper use and maintenance of your fuel-burning appliances. If your CO detector goes off, you should:

  • Make sure it is the CO detector and not the smoke alarm.
  • Check to see if any member of your household is experiencing symptoms.
  • If they are, get them out of the house immediately and seek medical attention.
  • If no one is feeling symptoms, ventilate the home with fresh air and turn off all potential sources of CO.

Have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances and chimneys to make sure they are operating correctly.

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