Sugarman’s Occupational Health Services can visit a company’s site and make a complete and comprehensive assessment, as carbon monoxide (CO) is a leading cause of chemical poisoning in both the workplace and the home. Any exposure to carbon monoxide impedes the blood's ability to carry oxygen to body tissues and vital organs. Our Occupational Health Services appreciates that practices and procedures used in the workplace are critical for controlling exposure to carbon monoxide. There are a variety of sources of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas that is slightly less dense than air. It is toxic to humans when encountered in concentrations above about 35 ppm. CO is a common industrial hazard and neglecting maintenance as well as ageing and defective appliances are the main causes of carbon monoxide poisoning in the workplace.
When a person breathes carbon monoxide the blood cannot carry oxygen and this lack of oxygen causes the body’s cells and tissue to die. The long-term damage of CO includes brain, organ and heart damage. How quickly poisoning takes place depends on three factors:
- How much CO is in the air
- How long a person is exposed to CO
- How fast a person breathes in the CO
Every year in the UK, over 200 people go to hospital with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, which leads to around 40 deaths. Symptoms include: dizziness, vomiting, fatigue and confusion, stomach pain and shortness of breath. Employees need to be extra careful if they suspect carbon monoxide accumulation and to be alert to ventilation problems, particularly in enclosed areas where gases or burning fuels may be released.
Occupational jobs most at risk include: welder, garage mechanic, firefighter, carbon-black maker, organic chemical synthesizer, metal oxide reducer, diesel engine operator, forklift operator, marine terminal worker, toll booth or tunnel attendant, customs inspector, police officer and taxi driver.
‘Workers who smoke are at higher risk of harm if they are also exposed to CO in their jobs.’
Tobacco smoking can be as much of a CO hazard to workers who smoke as work-related exposure. Smoking produces COHb levels 10-20 times the normal low levels produced by breathing city air. Tobacco smoke contains 4-6% of CO (40,000-60,000 ppm). This CO is diluted in the mouth and upper airways, but the remaining 400 ppm that is inhaled is still a very large amount.