OSHA Reminds Employers to Prevent Workplace Carbon Monoxide Exposure

Carbon monoxide overexposure symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, or tightness across the chest. Severe overexposure can lead to neurological damage, coma, and death.

OSHA issued a reminder Feb. 12 to employers to take necessary steps to protect workers from the serious and potentially deadly effects of carbon monoxide exposure. The reminder follows recent incidents highlighting the need to educate employers and workers about the dangers of carbon monoxide exposure from portable generators and other equipment within enclosed spaces.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and toxic gas, so it is important that employers and workers are familiar with the symptoms of overexposure. Carbon monoxide overexposure symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, or tightness across the chest. Severe overexposure can lead to neurological damage, coma, and death.

Carbon monoxide poisoning leads to the deaths of workers every year, usually when fuel-burning equipment and tools are used in buildings or semi-enclosed spaces that aren’t properly ventilated. The danger increases during the winter, when this type of equipment is used in indoor areas that have been sealed tightly against cold temperatures and wind.

In addition to space heaters and portable generators, carbon monoxide sources can include anything that uses combustion to operate, like power tools, compressors, pumps, welding equipment, furnaces, gas-powered forklifts, and motorized vehicles.

According to OSHA, employees can reduce the risk of workplace carbon monoxide exposure by installing an effective ventilation system, avoiding the use of fuel-burning equipment and vehicles in enclosed or partially-enclosed spaces, and using carbon monoxide detectors in areas where the hazard may exist. Employers should also take other precautions as outlined in the agency's Carbon Monoxide Fact Sheet.

Additional OSHA resources on carbon monoxide include videos, QuickCards, and a fact sheet on portable generator safety.

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