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Cold not the only winter hazard faced by workers

OSHA gives tips for avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning

February 11, 2013

winterA worker in a New England warehouse was recently found unconscious and seizing. Several of his co-workers also became sick. The culprit? Carbon monoxide poisoning. All of the windows and doors were closed to conserve heat, there was no exhaust ventilation in the facility, and very high levels of carbon monoxide were measured at the site.

Every year, workers die from carbon monoxide poisoning, usually while using fuel-burning equipment and tools in buildings or semi-enclosed spaces without adequate ventilation. This can be especially true during the winter months when employees use this type of equipment in indoor spaces that have been sealed tightly to block out cold temperatures and wind.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure can include everything from headaches, dizziness and drowsiness to nausea, vomiting or tightness across the chest. Severe carbon monoxide poisoning can cause neurological damage, coma and death.

Sources of carbon monoxide can include anything that uses combustion to operate, such as gas generators, power tools, compressors, pumps, welding equipment, space heaters and furnaces.

OSHA is reminding employers to take necessary precautions to protect workers from the serious, and sometimes fatal, effects of carbon monoxide exposure.

To reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in the workplace, employers should install an effective ventilation system, avoid the use of fuel-burning equipment in enclosed or partially-enclosed spaces, use carbon monoxide detectors in areas where the hazard is a concern and take other precautions outlined in OSHA's Carbon Monoxide Fact Sheet.

For additional information on carbon monoxide poisoning and preventing exposure in the workplace, see OSHA's Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Quick Cards (in English and Spanish).