Carbon monoxide is a sneaky gas because it has no odor, color, or taste but it is very toxic. It is produced by fumes generated any time you burn fuel in engines, furnaces, and fireplaces to name a few. It can build up in enclosed areas and poison people and animals who breathe it.
In the construction world, it is very common to have gasoline-powered equipment like generators, compressors, or skid loaders on the building site as well as heavy equipment doing dirt work. All of these factors in a confined area are a potential disaster waiting to happen without proper ventilation.
What happens to the body when carbon monoxide is continuously inhaled? The following article from National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) explains the effects of increased exposure to carbon monoxide and what the symptoms are:
CDC – Carbon Monoxide – NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic
Exposure to carbon monoxide impedes the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to body tissues and vital organs. When carbon monoxide is inhaled, it combines with hemoglobin (an iron-protein component of red blood cells), producing carboxyhemoglobin (COHb), which greatly diminishes hemoglobin’s oxygen-carrying capacity. Hemoglobin’s binding affinity for carbon monoxide is 300 times greater than its affinity for oxygen. As a result, small amounts of carbon monoxide can dramatically reduce hemoglobin’s ability to transport oxygen. Common symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure are headache, nausea, rapid breathing, weakness, exhaustion, dizziness, and confusion. Hypoxia (severe oxygen deficiency) due to acute carbon monoxide poisoning may result in reversible neurological effects, or it may result in long-term (and possibly delayed) irreversible neurological (brain damage) or cardiological (heart damage) effects.
Read more here: CDC – Carbon Monoxide – NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic
It is scary to think of how quickly carbon monoxide poisoning can happen, especially with people more vulnerable such as the elderly, small children, and people with breathing issues. In a matter of a few minutes, symptoms can escalate to hypoxia, or severe oxygen deficiency. The key for avoiding this situation is having some fresh air flowing through an area.
In the following video by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it demonstrates what can happen if you are in a closed area with gas-powered equipment and safety tips for construction workers:
Along with ventilation, a portable carbon monoxide detector can prevent emergencies from happening and keep construction workers safe. There are specific levels of carbon monoxide exposure that are outlined in the following post:
Construction Sites and Carbon Monoxide Hazards
Exposure limits. The carbon monoxide content of the atmosphere in a room, building, vehicle, railcar or any enclosed space shall be maintained at
not more than 50 parts per million (ppm) (0.005%) as an eight hour average area level and employees shall be removed from the enclosed space if the carbon monoxide concentration exceeds a ceiling of 100 ppm (0.01%).
See more here: Construction Sites and Carbon Monoxide Hazards
We have a shop that has a propane heater, and as long as we run the exhaust fan, it works great. However, the fan is somewhat counterproductive to heating the building. If we don’t have the fan running, our carbon monoxide detector always goes off, even though we never smell any odor. It’s critical to be aware of carbon monoxide safety and not wait until symptoms occur.