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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Work

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 30 Apr 2017 | comments*Discuss
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Detection

Most of us are familiar with the potentially lethal danger of carbon monoxide poisoning in the home whilst we are asleep yet any enclosed space which contains equipment and appliances which burn fuels are just as susceptible so that includes workplaces and enclosed sites.

What Causes Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is produced as a direct result of an incomplete combustion of fuel so, there are many devices which, have the potential to cause carbon monoxide poisoning in the workplace (especially if damaged or poorly maintained). These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Furnaces and water heaters
  • Room heaters and central heating system
  • Cooking and canteen appliances
  • Portable generators
  • Vehicle engines run in enclosed and poorly ventilated spaces and faulty exhaust systems
  • Blocked or damaged chimneys

In fact, any appliance which is gas, petrol or wood fuelled has the potential to be a killer if it’s not properly maintained and/or operated in a well ventilated area.

Minimising the Risks at Work

Poorly maintained, ageing and defective appliances alongside inadequate ventilation are the primary causes of carbon monoxide poisoning in the workplace. A thorough risk assessment is therefore crucial on all relevant equipment and appliances. A risk assessment will address various aspects of the machinery's location, standard and operator usage including:
  • Adequate ventilation
  • Regular checks/servicing
  • The presence of (regularly tested) carbon monoxide monitors
  • The manner in which the machinery is operated

Detecting Carbon Monoxide in the Workplace

Carbon monoxide poisoning has often been referred to as the ‘silent, deadly killer’ as you can’t see, hear or even smell it. This is why people have fallen prey to its devastating effect as they’ve been asleep in bed at home. So, whilst the workplace environment might not seem to be the kind of place where you might think you would be at risk, think again, especially if you are

working in a confined space

Recognising the Early Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Work

In the early stages, if carbon monoxide is present, you might start to experience non-specific symptoms which can vary from person to person. In general, these can be similar to those you might experience if you had flu but without incurring a high temperature. Therefore, you might experience nausea, dizziness, headache, abdominal pain or stomach upset or a sore throat and/or persistent cough. One of the surest signs that carbon monoxide is present in the workplace is if these symptoms start to diminish when you leave work and return home only to re-emerge when you’re next in work. This is possibly more noticeable after you’ve returned from, say, a week or two’s holiday. More evidence would be where several of your colleagues are also experiencing similar symptoms.

What can I do if I Suspect Carbon Monoxide at Work?

If you and/or your colleagues are experiencing anything akin to the symptoms that are outlined above, you should immediately inform your health and safety manager at work who is obliged to carry out a thorough investigation. Your employer must act upon any evidence that’s provided to them and must take all possible steps to eliminate or, at least, greatly reduce the possibility of exposure to carbon monoxide. Failure to do so and they are breaking the law and - as it can be proven through blood tests whether or not you have more than the acceptable levels of carbon monoxide in your blood - you can also sue your employer if they have been negligent.

It's not a thing of the past either...here are just a couple of instances where carbon monoxide poisoning has affected employees in the past couple of years:

August 2013 -Workers and customers were taken to hospital suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning at a beauty salon in Newton, Denbighshire
January 2014 - Two groups of channel tunnel workers were hospitalised within 24 hours of each other, suffering from the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Hello, I am working in quite big factory and from about month time company start heating by central heating (is a big green oven) since this time I can see and other people as well, that we feel very bad at work, this is nausea, dizziness, headache, abdominal pain or stomach upset, some people have sore throat (now is about 4 people have sore throat - they worked closier to this oven) and a I have cough. I coming back to home and I cannot eat nothing as I feel bad, I want sleep, the headache is all the time and any painkillers can't help me, how can we check this problem if this is carbon monoxide posioning? please help us !
anja.m - 2-Nov-15 @ 8:16 PM
@ninha. Could you ask for a safety inspection to be carried out? Also request that a carbon monoxide monitor be installed...they are inexpensive and effective.If you all three continue to feel unwell, then you should make a formal representation to the management asking for the extractor to be replaced and for a thorough inspection of the kitchen ventilation.
SafeWorkers - 28-Oct-14 @ 2:03 PM
Hi there, I work in a small kitchen, of a private college with two other people. During summer, my employer had electricians changing a few things in the kitchen, from then the extract vent started causing problems and only working on full(nr 5,where before was always on 3), if tried to go down to 4,the gas would not work. So,as a canteen supervisor, I reported the problem but not much was done. The college open in the middle of September and still nothing was done. Apart from the noise of the extract, that started to get on our nerves, heads and ears, we started to have symptoms like headaches, nausea and dizziness. To be honest, we did not think much of it, as a few people at work were suffering from colds but then we started to smell gas but it wasn't much, which again was reported. A gas engineer came in checked but nothing was wrong. On Tuesday last week, cooking was a challenge, because the gas would notstayed on and again I reported the problem but nothing was done. Wednesday the same problem and I stopped the all that had to do with gas cooking but still used grill and the deep fryer. On Thursday morning around 10.30 am, my colleagues and partner collapsed, being unconscious for a few seconds. Once He got better, I took him home but an hour later,I took him to hospital where they checked the blood for both of us. On my blood test the levels of carbon monoxide was 0,3,which is normal and for my partner the level was 5 but as he's a smoker that was normal. Now as we are now on half term, I expect the extract to be fixed. This is the problem cutting short, please I asking for help and advise on what to do if this problem its not fixed. Thanks lot and hope you can help.
ninha - 26-Oct-14 @ 4:47 PM
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