Exposure to carbon monoxide gas on a job site can cause permanent or fatal injuries. Employers are required to provide workers with a safe working environment that limits exposure to this dangerous inhaled substance. Workers should also receive training about the dangers of carbon monoxide.

Why is Carbon Monoxide Dangerous?

Carbon monoxide gas is called the silent killer. Its victims do not realize they are breathing it in because it has no taste or smell. This invisible gas does not cause any strange sensations in the mouth, throat, or nose as it is breathed in. Those who are exposed to this gas could easily dismiss their symptoms as the beginning of a cold or influenza if they are not educated to recognize the signs of exposure.

Common signs of carbon monoxide exposure include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weakness and exhaustion
  • Confusion

Carbon monoxide interferes with the ability of blood to transport oxygen throughout the body. Lack of oxygen in the blood can lead to hypoxia from acute carbon monoxide poisoning. Extended exposure can cause long-term or delayed irreversible brain or heart damage that can lead to coma or death. When exposure is suspected, workers should immediately move to an area with fresh air and seek medical treatment.

Construction Workers at Elevated Risk for Exposure

Construction workers are at an elevated risk for exposure to carbon monoxide because of the equipment they commonly use. Any tool or equipment that uses gasoline or other gases like those used for welding machines has the potential to produce carbon monoxide gas. This includes generators, space heaters, compressors, concrete cutting saws, floor buffers, and power trowels. Whenever possible, it is recommended to use tools that are powered by electricity or compressed air when working indoors.

Gas-powered tools, space heaters, generators, and other equipment should be inspected regularly to ensure they are in good working order. When generators must be used, they should never be placed indoors or an enclosed area, including basements, crawl spaces, or garages. If a generator must be used, proper ventilation is needed to prevent CO buildup. A generator should never be placed near windows, doors, or vents that could allow the gas to travel and build up in occupied areas.