Risks, Symptoms, and Illnesses From Carbon Monoxide Poisoning on the Job
Few people realize some of the most dangerous workplace hazards can be almost imperceptible: chemical substance exposure. Within this deadly category of chemical exposure lies the silent, invisible, and odorless killer, carbon monoxide (CO).
There is a reason why carbon monoxide is notorious for being deadly. Your body treats CO almost as if it were oxygen. When you breathe in air contaminated with carbon monoxide, the chemical is absorbed in the lungs. It binds to hemoglobin molecules just as oxygen does (in fact, a little more strongly than oxygen), and gets carried through the body just as oxygen would. However, the cells in your body cannot use carbon monoxide. They begin to die from oxygen starvation even when the amount of carbon monoxide in the air is relatively low.
Carbon monoxide is produced by almost every burning process. We have all heard news reports of people dying from carbon monoxide poisoning in their homes due to a faulty stove or furnace. But carbon monoxide poisoning is not limited to affecting individuals while they sleep at home. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), carbon monoxide is a lethal byproduct of burning fuel. It can be found in the fumes that emerge from cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces.
Construction workers are frequently placed in situations where carbon monoxide poisoning is a very real risk. In fact, if these workers fail to take certain precautions, they may face long-term, irreversible, or even fatal neurological, respiratory, and cardiac damage.
CO Poisoning Risks
The primary culprit of construction site CO exposure is the use of gas-powered tools. The exhaust from gasoline-powered tools can build up quickly in an enclosed area and take down several people before they have any idea what has happened.
Examples of these tools include concrete cutting saws, high-pressure washers, floor buffers, welders, compressors, generators and even forklifts.
The CDC acknowledges the extreme dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and offers a few safety tips:
- Know the symptoms. The CDC can’t stress enough how important it is to be able to recognize the signs of carbon monoxide overexposure. These symptoms include headache, nausea, weakness, dizziness, visual disturbances, changes in personality, and loss of consciousness.
- Know to ventilate fumes. Do not use gasoline-powered engines or tools inside buildings or partially enclosed areas unless the gas engines can be placed outside and away from air intakes. Consider using tools powered by electricity or compressed air instead, if they can be used safely.
- Know to monitor. Use personal carbon monoxide monitors where potential sources of CO exist. Those monitors need to have audible alarms to warn workers when CO concentrations are too high.
If you have symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, go outside right away into fresh air and call 911, or have someone else call for you. If you know you’re close to a medical facility, and think it would be faster to go straight there, have someone else drive you—do not drive yourself. Carbon monoxide poisoning can interfere with your judgment and perceptions, and you cannot drive safely even if you remain conscious.
Emergency medical care is required for cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. The body cannot purge high levels of carbon monoxide from the bloodstream on its own.
Were you the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of a workplace exposure, or did your family member lose his life due to carbon monoxide on the job? Contact attorney Steve Lee for a FREE consultation and review of your legal options.