|Written By: Jim Grayston
|Originally Published in the May/June 1996 issue of The Outfitter Magazine.|
The following article appeared in the Winter 1994 – 1995 Tourism and Hospitality Industry Health and Safety Program Newsletter entitle “News & Views”.
Two workers at a hotel were recently overcome by carbon monoxide fumes emitting from a vent above a ballroom foyer. Showing signs of dizziness and disorientation both workers were taken from the area to receive medical aid.
Had either worker become unconscious, the incident would have been deemed a critical incident, and a Ministry of Labour investigation would have followed. In this case, the gas company and the employer led an investigation that revealed that the burners and heat exchangers for the hotel’s heating system had become plugged, causing gases to back up through the system and leak into the foyer area. The local gas company shut the gas supply off until the system was fixed and checked.
THIHSEP consultant, Dave Santi notes that “there are several reasonable priced carbon monoxide detectors for home and business on the market. At the same time, employers need to make regular preventative maintenance of all heating and ventilation systems a regular part of their work activities.”
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous, odorless, tasteless, colourless gas. It is found in such everyday sources as tobacco smoke, exhaust from motor vehicles, industrial processes, inefficient home heating, barbecues and fires. The hazard of carbon monoxide is universal, and exists, to some degree, in all industries and homes.
How carbon monoxide affects the body
Through the normal process of inhaling and exhaling, carbon monoxide can be absorbed into the blood stream at a rate of more than 200 times that of oxygen, thus depriving the body tissues of the oxygen that is necessary for survival.
The continuous exposure to a very low concentration of carbon monoxide, over a sufficient length of time, can produce the same toxic effect as short exposure to a higher concentration.
The presence of carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide hazards can be present in:
Unventilated cabs of parked vehicles
Vehicles with faulty exhaust or muffler systems
Vehicles with floor areas or engine cab compartment walls that allow the gases to leak into the cab
Garages, warehouses or storage areas where engines are running without proper ventilation or exhaust systems to remove the gases
Areas where fuel burning apparatus is used for heating and the area is not ventilated, or an exhaust system has not been provided
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
- Shortage of breath on moderate exertion
- Slight headache
Impairment of vision and hearing
Collapse or fainting on exertion
Unconsciousness or death
All fuel-burning appliances should receive an annual safety inspection.
Fuel burning heaters should be vented to the outdoors, with flue pipes correctly fitted and in good repair.
Burning charcoal can release dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide and should not be used indoors or in an enclosed area.
In enclosed areas, make sure there is adequate ventilation or an exhaust system where internal combustion engines may be operating or where a fuel burning apparatus is operating. Where engines or apparatus have been operating, allow time for a flow of fresh air into the area before entering.
First Aid Treatment
Move the victim to the outdoors, always exercising caution when entering enclosed areas or buildings that may contain high concentrations of carbon monoxide.
Keep the patient lying down until the doctor or emergency vehicle arrives. Do not let the victim walk after he has regained consciousness.
If breathing is shallow or has stopped, have someone with a knowledge of resuscitation techniques begin artificial respiration.
If the victim complains of a headache, do not medicate the victim with aspirin or any other headache remedy. Serious attacks of heart failure have been reported following the administration of such drugs in cases of gas poisoning.