Occupational Health Hazards of Carbon Monoxide

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide or CO is a toxic gas that you cannot smell, see or taste and, for this reason, it is known as the ‘silent killer’.

Why Is Carbon Monoxide Dangerous? 

Because carbon monoxide is hard to detect, it makes the gas especially lethal. The risk of carbon monoxide exposure increases in confined or poorly ventilated spaces because toxic levels of the gas build up quickly with no way to exhaust or escape. 

When people breathe in carbon monoxide, it interferes with the transport of oxygen by the blood. You can become overwhelmed by high levels of carbon monoxide within minutes with little to no warning resulting in the loss of consciousness, making the gas particularly dangerous. 

How Does Carbon Monoxide Harm My Body?

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide builds up in your bloodstream (link to the blood system page). When too much carbon monoxide is in the air, your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. This can lead to serious tissue damage, or even death. 

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision, and loss of consciousness. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be particularly dangerous for people who are sleeping or intoxicated. People may have irreversible brain damage or even die before they realize there's a problem.

Who Needs To Be Concerned About Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Work?

Everyone needs to be aware of carbon monoxide hazards and signs of exposure because it can occur in your personal life at home, sources of carbon monoxide exposure can include furnaces, dryers, water heaters, gas ovens, wood burning stoves, and charcoal grills. Leaving cars, trucks, or other engines running in enclosed spaces like garages is another common source of exposure.  

At work, the most common source of carbon monoxide is anything with a gasoline, diesel- or gas-powered engine like a generator, vehicle, or truck. In winter, supplementary heaters can cause CO exposure. If your workplace has a furnace, water heater or oven you need to be aware of carbon monoxide. Tools powered by gasoline-like high-pressure washers, welders and pumps also produce carbon monoxide.

Workplace with Elevated Risk of Carbon Monoxide Exposure 

Workplaces with elevated risk of CO exposure include mechanical shop floors, boiler rooms, breweries, docks, warehouses, petroleum refineries, mines, pulp and paper production, steel production, and blast furnaces or coke ovens. If you work in an enclosed space, you have an elevated risk of carbon monoxide exposure. If you drive a vehicle for a living, you need to be aware of situations that elevate your risk of CO exposure. 

Emergency situations where workers, or first responders have entered CO-rich environments without personal CO monitors and respirator equipment have subsequently become victims of serious injury and even death. 

How to Mitigate Carbon Monoxide Hazards in the Workplace 

If you are a worker with an elevated risk of CO exposure, it is important that your workplace has an exposure control plan in place to prevent injury. If you are a business owner, we recommend utilizing our chemical management solutions to help elevate the health standards of your company. 


Elevate the level of occupational health standards for your company.