Recently, two laborers cleaning an empty underground parking garage collapsed and had to be treated in a hospital emergency room for carbon monoxide poisoning. Two other workers and a foreman were also treated. They had been using a gas-fueled power washer.
Workers can suffer carbon monoxide poisoning if they use gas-fueled equipment where there isn’t enough fresh air. Even open doors and fans may not provide enough ventilation. Studies have found that workers were poisoned by carbon monoxide while using propane-powered forklifts in a warehouse, gasoline-powered saws, gas-fueled power washers, and liquid-propane-powered floor burnishers.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas. It quickly enters the lungs and attaches to the blood, which moves it quickly throughout the body. The level of poisoning is affected by the concentration of carbon monoxide in the air, the length of the exposure, the exercise involved in the work being done (which affects the breathing rate), and personal factors. In some cases, a victim may not show dizziness or other symptoms.
People exposed to carbon monoxide may initially suffer flu-like symptoms including nausea, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, confusion and breathing difficulty. Because carbon monoxide poisoning often causes a victim’s blood pressure to rise, the victim’s skin may take on a pink or red cast.
Unconsciousness or death can result in minutes with high levels of exposure to carbon monoxide. Those who survive may still suffer breathing difficulty, brain damage, or permanent injury to the nervous system.
Employers can cut the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning by using electric equipment, good ventilation, monitoring, and training. When gas-fueled equipment is necessary, it should be fitted with a catalytic converter and well-maintained, to give off less carbon monoxide.
Even with these steps, the amount of carbon monoxide may still be too high to use gas-fueled equipment in some areas. Air monitoring is needed to make sure workers are not exposed to unsafe levels of the gas. This monitoring requires special equipment and people trained to use it.
All workers must be told about the dangers of using gas-fueled equipment in enclosed spaces.