Carbon Monoxide and the Small Business Workplace

Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas. Since victims cannot see, touch, smell, or taste this particular gas, it is often fatal before its victims know what’s happening. It’s not only a concern for homeowners, but for business owners as well. Combustible engines, welding, burning wood, and burning plastic produces carbon monoxide gas in the workplace. It’s also produced in poorly maintained, or vented, heating and cooking equipment, vehicle exhaust fumes, gas water heaters, fireplaces, gas stoves, and kerosene heaters.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

There are different symptoms for different levels of exposure and even those vary greatly due to mitigating factors such as age of victims, degree of exposure, and overall health. Symptoms of mild exposure include dizziness, headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, and disorientation. At higher levels of exposure, carbon monoxide poisoning has more severe symptoms that include vomiting, mental confusion, loss of coordination, and death.

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in the Workplace

Prevention is the best cure for avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning among your employees and your customers. Small policy changes save lives and that should be a priority for any business owner. It’s up to you, as the business owner, to establish policies and guidelines that greatly reduce the amount of carbon monoxide exposure in the workplace, such as these, in order to protect the safety of all who work for you.

  • Only operate any gas or propane-powered equipment in designated, well-ventilated areas. The temptation to move some jobs indoors, close doors, and/or turn off ventilation fans may be higher as the temperature drops, but the consequences of doing so can be deadly.
  • Educate your employees and managers about carbon monoxide, the risks, signs, symptoms, and the consequences of failing to follow the prescribed protocols for reducing exposure.
  •  Install carbon monoxide detectors in your facility and inform employees what proper procedures are if the carbon monoxide alarm sounds.
  • Replace unvented space heaters with vented alternatives.
  • Invest in yearly heating unit “tune–ups” and inspections. Not only do these detect potential problems early, but they also help keep heating costs down. It’s a double win for businesses that more than covers the costs of the inspections each year.
  • Only allow welding in properly ventilated and designated areas.
  • Follow generator safety tips. Never use generators inside enclosed workspaces. Lethal carbon monoxide levels build up quickly from generator exhaust and they linger long after the generator is turned off.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a threat that is as real as fire, tornadoes, slips, and falls. The problem with this particular hazard is that you can’t see it coming. Most people don’t even recognize the symptoms for what they really are unless they are experienced in combination with a carbon monoxide alarm. Education, training, and safety-first policies are your first line of defense against CO in the workplace.

Sometimes, however, despite the best of training, education, protocols, and precautions, carbon monoxide events in the workplace do occur. When this happens, you need a second line of defense to protect your business and the people who work for you through workers’ compensation insurance.