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November is Carbon Monoxide Safety Month. Neumann Brothers’ Safety Manager James Machamer shares the dangers of the “invisible killer” and how to stay safe on the job site.

Carbon Monoxide Basics

Eyes (CO cannot be seen), Nose (CO cannot be smelled), Ears (CO cannot be heard)Carbon monoxide (CO) is a silent killer, making it one of the most dangerous threats on a construction site. CO is odorless–whether it’s present on its own or among other “regular” gases and smells–it’s utterly undetectable.

Within minutes of inhaling carbon monoxide, you can become unconscious and suffocate. Construction workers and welders are especially at risk. There is an increased risk of CO exposure in boiler rooms, warehouses, petroleum refineries, and steel production plants.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) emphasizes the importance of prevention methods against CO poisoning since it can threaten workers’ lives on a construction site without any notice. Construction workers should take the following precautions and make a note of these potential CO hazards.

Beware of Portable Generators

Portable generators are often a necessity, especially on projects where the electrical wiring has not been completed. However, portable generators can pose a serious concern which ultimately comes down to poor ventilation.

The same goes for space heaters, gas-powered equipment (such as wet saws), and water pumps. To prevent CO poisoning from gas-powered equipment and generators, workers should:

  • Never use in enclosed spaces, such as basements or areas where there is little to no ventilation. Windows and doors should always be left open when using these materials.
  • Leave 3-4 feet of space between the generator and any ceilings or walls.
  • If using a generator outdoors, make sure it’s not placed in a location where CO could enter confined and occupied spaces, such as near narrow openings.

Always Be Properly Equipped

Construction management should always ensure the installation of effective ventilation systems on the construction site. For this reason, quality assurance is essential. Industrial-sized fans should be placed in areas where openings to the outdoors aren’t as readily available. Furthermore, gas-powered equipment should be swapped out for battery or electric-powered equipment. Gas-powered saws, used for carving out openings in walls or other surfaces, should be replaced by hydraulic or pneumatic concrete saws.

In confined spaces or other oxygen-depleted areas, construction workers should be equipped with the appropriate safety gear. Self-contained breathing apparatuses provide workers with clean air to breathe via a fixed oxygen supply, making them immune to high concentrations of CO in their environment.

Workers should also be equipped with multi-gas monitors. These small monitors clip onto work belts and are highly portable, detecting poisonous gases in the environment and alert workers. The Neumann team utilizes this monitoring equipment often to ensure the safety of our workers.

Practice Awareness & Respond Quickly

Symptom chart for how CO effects a person and the symptoms they experienceIf workers notice themselves getting light-headed while working amongst these tools, they should immediately relocate to a well-ventilated area. Similarly, they should learn to spot the signs of CO poisoning in fellow workers, including lightheadedness, dizziness, vomiting, or shortness of breath. If they hear these complaints from fellow workers or notice them becoming lethargic, they should call 911 immediately. Additionally, they should move that individual to a ventilated area and apply a tight-fitting mask to reinstate their oxygen supply and administer CPR.

Construction workers are privy to the many deadly hazards around them, from steep grades to heavy machinery. However, carbon monoxide is perhaps the most dangerous because it is the most discrete. Workers should be familiar with OSHA’s standards and solutions for carbon monoxide poisoning.