Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas known as the silent killer. This is because it is an odourless, colourless, tasteless gas, which has the capacity to cause serious neurological damage, and even has the ability to kill in a matter of minutes. This gas is notoriously difficult to detect, and even those who have received a dose of carbon dioxide poisoning are often diagnosed as having flue due to the non-specific nature of the symptoms.

In order to help protect yourself and your family from the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, it is vital that you know that sources and causes of this deadly gas. Thousands of people, both young and old, die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, and often don’t even know what hit them. They simply slip in to unconsciousness whilst reading, dosing or even watching television, and never wake up again.

There are a variety of sources of carbon monoxide poisoning, which include:

Carbon monoxide is produced when carbon containing materials are burned with insufficient oxygen, or when the combustion mechanism is not adjusted properly, resulting in incomplete combustion. CO is produced from both man-made and natural sources.

Man-made sources of CO include:

  • The improper or incomplete burning of natural gas or carbon-based fuels such as propane, gasoline, kerosene, wood, coal, and charcoal;
  • Un-vented or improperly vented heaters and furnaces, which lead to an increase in carbon monoxide poisoning cases during the winter months;
  • Auto exhausts;
  • Tobacco smoke;
  • Faulty chimneys or fireplaces;
  • Faulty fuel burning gadgets such as space heaters and gasoline engines;
  • Gas appliances and heaters in small and enclosed spaces;
  • Faulty central heating systems;
  • Blockages that can cause improper ventilation in enclosed spaces where fuel is burned (e.g. kitchens, lounges with chimney blockage etc.)

Natural sources of CO:


  • Marsh gases;
  • Forest fires;
  • Volcanic gases;
  • Natural gases in coal mines.


  • Production by land animals;
  • Vegetation production during seed germination;
  • Marine brown algae or kelp;
  • Marine hydrozoans: (jellyfish).

All of these sources are ones that could be present both in the home and in the workplace. However, there are also some sources that are more occupational and workplace related such as forges, blast furnaces, boiler rooms, breweries, docks, petrol refineries, paper and steel production, and combustion engines. Below you will find a list of those most at risk from or susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning, both occupationally and within the home.

Occupational Carbon Monoxide Risks:

Welders, mechanics, engine operators, forklift operators, fire fighters, marine workers, toll-booth attendants, customs inspectors, police officers, taxi drivers, and carbon-black makers.

General Carbon Monoxide Risks:

Elderly people, young children, pregnant mothers, hear or lung disease sufferers, those in high altitudes, smokers and unborn babies.

Although people all over the world are becoming more aware of the effects and dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning it still manages to get the better of thousands of people each year, and many people remain blissfully unaware that they are being constantly exposed to a source of this deadly gas. It is therefore vital that you check all appliances and ventilation systems within the home and office to ensure that they are functioning properly.

If carbon monoxide poisoning is an occupational hazard, for example if you are a steel worker of engine operator, your employer should be taking the necessary precautions to provide you with protection and should also be initiating regular check on all equipment to ensure appropriate function.

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