Carbon Monoxide Exposure

Date: February 15, 2022

Carrie Kolodji, Risk Control Analyst

6 Ways to Control Carbon Monoxide - The Silent Killer

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas known as a "silent killer." When breathed, CO displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives the heart, brain, and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overcome you in minutes without warning, causing you to lose consciousness and suffocate. According to the CDC, each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional poisoning, 20,000 visit the emergency room, and over 4,000 are hospitalized.

Protect yourself and your employees—understand the danger and control the risk.

Sources and Detection of CO

Anything that uses combustion to operate is a source for CO exposure such as:

  • Vehicles
  • Mobile Equipment
  • Generators
  • Power Tools
  • Compressors
  • Pumps
  • Welding Equipment
  • Space Heaters
  • Furnaces

There is no way to detect CO by odor, color, or irritation. Gas monitoring must be used. Build-up of gas in an enclosed or semi-enclosed space without adequate ventilation can poison individuals.

Who is Affected and What are the Symptoms?

Everyone is at risk. However, the elderly, infants, people with chronic heart disease, breathing problems, anemia, or smoking, are more susceptible.

CO poisoning symptoms are often described as flu-like symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea/vomiting, chest pain, or confusion. Higher exposure can lead to unconsciousness, convulsions, coma, or death.


Once CO is detected, remove anyone from the contaminated area immediately. Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect poisoning.

Warning: You may be exposed to fatal levels of CO poisoning in a rescue attempt. Rescuers should be skilled at performing recovery operations and using recovery equipment. Employers should make sure that rescuers are not exposed to dangerous CO levels when performing rescue operations.

Control the Hazard

Recommended practices:

  1. Avoid Exposure – Substitute non-gas-producing equipment, such as battery-powered engines for vehicles or machinery that emit CO.
  2. Ventilation – Prohibit the use of gasoline-powered engines or tools in poorly ventilated areas. Individual operations can be enclosed and connected to a local exhaust ventilation system. Portable exhaust devices can be employed to remove gas from enclosed or underground work areas.
  3. Monitor – Install UL-listed CO monitors in areas where CO may be present, including confined spaces. Since CO is slightly lighter than air and may be found with warm, rising air, place monitors at least five feet above the floor. A separate detector is needed on each floor. Provide personal CO monitors with audible alarms if potential exposure to CO exists.
  4. Maintenance – Keep furnaces, equipment, and appliances in proper working order to minimize.
  5. Personal Protective Equipment – As a last resort, workers can be provided PPE respiratory equipment.
  6. Training – Educate workers about the sources and conditions that may result in CO poisoning, as well as the symptoms, treatment, and control of exposure.

Our team is here to help protect you and your team. For more safety recommendations, contact your local Risk Control Consultant. To find a BITCO agent near you, click the button below.

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For information purposes only. BITCO's blog content does not address all potential circumstances and is not a substitute for business, safety, or legal consultation.

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