Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Work

Most of us are familiar with the potentially lethal danger of carbon monoxide poisoning in the home. However, any enclosed space which contains equipment and appliances burning fuels also poses a risk. This includes workplaces and enclosed work sites.

danger carbon monoxide sign

What Causes Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is produced as a direct result of an incomplete combustion of fuel. That means there are many devices which have the potential to cause carbon monoxide poisoning in the workplace. This is especially true if damaged or poorly maintained.

These can include:

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

When you’re running a car engine and even a charcoal barbecue, they will produce Carbon Monoxide. Although in these examples, it’s relatively harmless as the activity is conducted in open spaces outdoors.

Within the workplace however, it could be fatal. Vehicle garages and mines are just two of the more common places where Carbon Monoxide would be present but it can be found in most industrial type premises and in any workplace which is heated by gas.

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

Reducing Risks from Carbon Monoxide at Work

Poorly maintained, ageing and defective appliances alongside poor ventilation are the primary causes of carbon monoxide poisoning in the workplace.

A thorough risk assessment is 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.

Defective equipment is one of the biggest causes of Carbon Monoxide poisoning so things such as ventilation, exhaust systems etc should be kept well maintained.

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 smell it.

The risks are more commonly associated with domestic settings. The workplace environment might not seem to be the kind of place where you might think you would be at risk. However, think again especially if you are working in a confined space.

Carbon monoxide detectors are cheap and easy to install in any area of the workplace.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Work

In the early stages of carbon monoxide poisoning, 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 a high temperature. These symptoms might include:-

  • Nausea.
  • Dizziness.
  • Headache.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Stomach upset.
  • Sore throat.
  • 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 twos holiday. More evidence would be where several of your colleagues are also experiencing similar symptoms.

It’s often useful to ask around other work colleagues to see if they’ve experienced similar symptoms. If you’re still in any doubt, you should seek medical help. A simple blood test will usually be enough to detect the presence of Carbon Monoxide within your body.

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

If you or your colleagues are experiencing anything like to the symptoms that are outlined above, you should immediately inform your health and safety manager at work. They are 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 reduce the chance of exposure to carbon monoxide.

Should they fail to do so they are breaking the law. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be proven through blood tests whether or not you have more than the acceptable levels of carbon monoxide in your blood.

Your employer has a duty of care to keep you safe. Failure to do so is treated very seriously under UK health and safety law. You have the right to take your employer to court for compensation if they have put you at risk.

Carbon Monoxide at Work Examples

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.

9 thoughts on “Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Work

  1. Cjames says:

    I work for a large company in an upper office from a goods in department of a warehouse. The windows open to the loading bay with constant noise and fumes. We have recently had co2 detectors fitted both upstairs and downstairs. Our readings are showing over 900-1500 each day coded in red with a sad face. This is at least 80% of the working day. Downstairs levels are lower. Would you contact the Health & Safety to investigate as one of the team is in hospital?

  2. Busytray says:

    I work as a breakfast chef in a big chain hotel, i reported the gas leak 3 years ago to be told i was making it up (even though the gas pipe had a kinck in the pipe) on the 4th of nov 2019 monday morning i goes in to do my shift and all i coud smell was gas, i reported it aga8n but was dismissed. I kept on protesting my find and refusing to cook any hot food untill a qualifIed gas man came out to check it and apr9ve that it was safe, well guess what….there is a gas leak, quite a bad one. I am fumming because nobody beleived me but better still management are not bothered that i and my colleges have been breathing that in for years. I was told that its been fixed so p moaning on about it , i was told that the gas wOuld do no harm but yet today we can only have 5 gas rings on at 1 time due to health and saftey of the staff. Wtf!!! I just need to know is it or isnt it safe to breath it in??

  3. Memo says:

    My new manaager has ben forcing me to drive a gas vehicle with 178,000 miles on the odometer. It appears to be punishment because we had our oompany vehicle and he moved us into this old car. Now our company vehicle just sits there being unused. I started using the heater in the vehicle and have been smelling exhaust fumes through the vents. I started getting headaches, nausea, an irritated throat and now I have a dry cough that won’t go away. The doctor plaaced me on modified duty and told the manager to keep me away from the vehicle but he would not provide me a replacement vehicle to do my job with. My supervisor smelled the fumes and provided me a different vehicle to work with. 2 days later my supervisor told me that my manager said that I had to drive the exhaust smelling vehicle because there was no smell of exhaust fumes because the mechanic could not smell it. I went back to the doctor’s and he placed me of temporary disability leave for 2 weeks. How can I get this vehicle tested on my own when I go back to work?

  4. Concerned says:

    If my workplace had a gas system where the gas would work if the extraction fans where on and off, while having one of my work friends hospilised with pneumonia, would that be considered illegal?

  5. Ditz says:

    We have co2 detectors at work, they detect high levels of co2. The supervisors told us we will evacuate if levels get over 5. Which they often do because the supers are racing around turning fans on. I never, ever have had headaches, and working in a turkey processing plant now, I get them often. Lightheaded almost daily. What do we do?

  6. anja.m says:

    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 !

  7. ninha says:

    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 not stayed 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.

    • Safe Workers says:

      @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.

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