CO, the chemical symbol for carbon monoxide, is a tasteless, odourless and colourless gas that is very difficult to detect but can cause permanent organ damage and even death if breathed in. Carbon monoxide poisons the body when breathed in by displacing the oxygen in the blood and starving the vital organs such as the brain and heart of oxygen. This causes cell death and suffocation, and can cause permanent brain, heart or neurological damage, and can also result in swift death.
There are a variety of causes of carbon monoxide poisoning, and these include occupational hazards as well as dangers within the home, car and environment. Like any other danger in order to try and prevent carbon monoxide poisoning it is vital to be aware of the causes and effects of this deadly gas. Only then can you take the necessary steps to safeguard yourself and your loved ones against the deadly dangers of CO.
There are a number of precautions that can be taken in order to help prevent carbon dioxide poisoning, both in and around the home. There are also precautions for employers to help safeguard employees against the dangers of CO poisoning.
General carbon monoxide precautions
Every home should be equipped with a carbon monoxide (CO) detector. Carbon monoxide detectors and alarms are an inexpensive and effective way of keeping you and your family safe from the devastating and deadly effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. Please keep in mind that a carbon monoxide detector is NOT a smoke detector, and an alarm will not sound in the event of a fire.
In addition to outfitting your home with a functioning carbon monoxide alarm, there are other steps you can take to prevent carbon monoxide exposure. Below are some of these important safety tips:
- Ensure that you have all fuel-burning appliances checked regularly and by a trained and certified professional. This includes appliances such as furnaces, gas heaters, ovens, fireplaces etc.
- Perform a test of your carbon monoxide alarm once a month to ensure that it is working properly.
- If you have a battery operated carbon monoxide detector, change the batteries within the timeframe recommended by the manufacturer.
- Keep your flume open when using the fireplace.
- Inspect your chimney annually and make sure that it is not covered or obstructed by debris or any other objects that will hinder proper ventilation.
- Make sure that you check chimney flues and vents regularly for any blockages to ensure than burning gas emissions can escape through the proper channels.
- If possible, always opt for fuel appliances that vent fumes to the outside, and ensure that they are fitted and checked regularly by certified professionals.
- Always follow the instructions for the use of a fuel-burning device to the letter. Wherever required, open windows and doors when burning fuel.
- Do not sleep in a room that has an un-vented or unchecked heater. Also, do not use a gas stove or oven to heat your home.
- Do not burn any fuel or use any related appliances in enclosed spaces where fumes can quickly build up.
- Look into CO detection devices, which can monitor unusually high levels of carbon monoxide in the air.
- Use an overhead exhaust fan over a gas stove. Make sure that the vent goes to the outside.
- Use all appliances according to the manufacturer’s instructions and make sure that they are in good working condition and well maintained.
- If you are replacing an old, unvented space heater, think about buying a vented space heater instead.
- Inspect the color of the flame on your appliances, such as your stove top. If the flame is orange you may be at risk for CO poisoning.
- Always be aware of the symptoms of CO, and seek medical assistance immediately if you experience these symptoms.
- Turn off your car or any other gasoline powered vehicle when you are in the garage; never let your vehicle idle when inside the garage even if the garage door is open. Do not leave the car engine running in the garage, as this can build up fumes very quickly, which can in turn seep through door cracks and in to the home.
Carbon Monoxide Precautions for Employers:
- Ensure that there is a fully functional and regularly checked ventilation system to prevent CO contamination in areas within the workplace.
- Ensure that all appropriate equipment is checked regularly and by a certified professional to ensure safe and proper functioning.
- Wherever there is a risk (e.g. enclosed spaces) change gas-powered equipment for an electric alternative if there is one available.
- Ensure that equipment that could pose a risk is not operated in enclosed spaces or in poorly ventilated areas of the workplace.
- Make sure that staff are trained on the dangers, causes, effects and symptoms of carbon dioxide poisoning, and encourage them to report any violations, risks, or symptoms.
It is important for everyone to play their part in the prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning, whether you are an employee, an employer, or simply as a family member within the household. By raising awareness, training and educating yourself and others, and ensuring that precautions and safety measures are taken as a matter of routine you could help to prevent this deadly gas from damaging or killing you or someone close to you.