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Industry Updates

Can Your Crews Identify the Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

iStock/Ralf Geithe

Keeping crews safe and healthy on the job site has always been, and will always be, a top priority. One issue that’s become more prevalent on projects is indoor air quality and carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. The warning signs of CO poisoning can be subtle, which is why safety awareness among construction professionals is so important.

Ongoing safety meetings and training are one way to help keep employees educated, informed and ultimately, healthy. Crews working around internal combustion engine-powered equipment, including propane equipment, should be aware of the dangers of CO, the signs of CO poisoning, precautions they can take, and how different fuels used on-site can affect their risk. 

What Are The Signs of CO Poisoning?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CO symptoms are often described as “flu-like” and the most common symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning, but people with chronic heart disease, anemia or breathing problems are more likely to get sick from CO. According to the CDC, more than 400 Americans die each year from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized. 

“If an employee ever suspects CO is present, they should follow their organization’s protocol or shut off equipment and call emergency services.”

If an employee ever suspects CO is present, they should follow their organization’s protocol or shut off equipment and call emergency services, such as their local fire department. Further, if an employee thinks they, or someone else, may have CO poisoning, they should get into fresh air and seek emergency medical care immediately. 

How Can Employees Help Prevent CO Poisoning?

The Mayo Clinic has outlined a few simple precautions people can take to help prevent CO poisoning, including:

  • Install CO detectors. Fortunately, almost all new propane-powered indoor use equipment is required to have CO detectors onboard. 
  • Use gas appliances as recommended. For example, be aware of potential CO issues when using portable propane heaters or other propane-powered equipment in an enclosed space. Ensure the equipment is designed for indoor use, and make sure you have proper ventilation.
  • Keep fuel-burning appliances and engines properly-vented. Businesses should ask their utility company about yearly checkups for all gas appliances.

Does Propane-Powered Equipment Impact the Risk of CO Poisoning?

Propane is an approved clean alternative fuel under the Clean Air Act of 1990 and can offer a safe alternative to gasoline- and diesel-powered small-engine jobsite applications that are often the culprit to employees getting sick. Because of its low-emissions profile, propane equipment is perfectly safe to operate in properly-ventilated indoor spaces. Compared with other options, propane is actually safer for indoor use, helping protect crews from dangerous carbon monoxide exposure. Well-maintained propane engines meet or exceed nationwide indoor air quality standards, whereas gasoline and diesel equipment can produce a variety of harmful chemicals and pollutants — including higher amounts of carbon monoxide. 

To learn more about propane safety or the benefits of propane light construction equipment, visit Propane.com/Construction-Safety.

Matt McDonald is director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at matt.mcdonald@propane.com.