What is carbon monoxide? 

Carbon monoxide, which is represented as CO, is a colorless, odorless, and highly toxic gas. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels such as gasoline, coal, and wood. If there is too little oxygen or too much carbon present when something burns, the burning produces CO. 

Carbon monoxide in workplaces can come from various sources, which include: 

  • Welding machine
  • Portable generators
  • Gas-powered tools and equipment
  • Wood-burning stoves
  • Pumps
  • Engines running in non-ventilated areas
  • Any other diesel, coal, propane or gas-burning item
  • Fuel-burning space heaters
Workers with elevated risk of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 400 people die and 4,000 are hospitalized, due to unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States. Unfortunately, certain workers are at a high risk of carbon monoxide exposure. 

Employees who work in mechanical shop floors, boiler rooms, breweries, docks, warehouses, petroleum refineries, mines, pulp and paper production, steel production, and blast furnaces or coke ovens may be exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. The following employees are also included: 

  • Carbon-black maker
  • Customs inspector
  • Diesel engine operator
  • Firefighter
  • Forklift operator
  • Garage mechanic
  • Longshore worker
  • Marine terminal worker
  • Metal oxide reducer
  • Organic chemical synthesizer
  • Police officer
  • Taxi driver
  • Toll booth or tunnel attendant
  • Welder
Permissible levels of carbon monoxide

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  sets permissible exposure limit (PEL) for carbon monoxide at 50 parts per million (ppm) parts of air (55 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m(3)) as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) concentration. 

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) sets a recommended exposure limit (REL) for carbon monoxide of 35 ppm (40 mg/m(3)) as an 8-hour TWA and 200 ppm (229 mg/m(3)) as a ceiling. The NIOSH limit is based on the risk of cardiovascular effects.

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) as mandated by the Clean Air Act. These standards apply to outdoor air across the country. For carbon monoxide, the NAAQS sets limits of 9 ppm over 8 hours and 35 ppm over 1 hour, not to be surpassed more than once annually.

World Health Organization (WHO)

To support their goal of clean outdoor air and aid countries in developing indoor air quality building standards, the World Health Organization (WHO) provides recommendations for maximum carbon monoxide levels.

The WHO recommended limits are:

  • 9-10 ppm for no more than 8 hours
  • 25-35 ppm for no more than 1 hour
  • 90-100 ppm for no more than 15 minutes
Effects of carbon monoxide exposure

The US EPA shares the most common health problems associated with carbon monoxide poisoning: 

At low concentrations:

  • fatigue in healthy people
  • chest pain in people with heart disease

At moderate concentrations:

  • angina, a type of chest pain or discomfort that happens when the heart isn’t receiving enough oxygen-rich blood.
  • impaired vision
  • reduced brain function

At higher concentrations:

  • impaired vision
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • nausea
  • flu-like symptoms
  • fatal at very high concentrations
How to minimize carbon monoxide exposure at work

Minimizing carbon monoxide (CO) exposure at work is essential for ensuring the health and safety of employees. Here are some steps you can take to reduce CO exposure in the workplace:

  • Install an effective ventilation system that will remove CO from work areas.
  • Maintain equipment and appliances, such as water heaters and space heaters in good working order to promote their safe operation and to reduce carbon monoxide formation. 
  • Raise awareness among employees about the hazards associated with carbon monoxide and educate them on how to identify the signs of CO poisoning. Emphasize the importance of promptly reporting any suspected leaks or faulty equipment. Foster a workplace culture that prioritizes safety and accountability when it comes to carbon monoxide exposure.
  • Familiarize yourself with the carbon monoxide exposure regulations and industry standards applicable to your area. Take the necessary steps to ensure that your workplace adheres to all relevant guidelines.
  • Develop comprehensive emergency procedures to be followed in the event of a carbon monoxide leak or increased levels, ensuring that employees are well-informed about the necessary actions, including promptly evacuating the affected area and seeking immediate medical assistance if required.
  • To minimize carbon monoxide exposure at work, ensure that fuels like gasoline, propane, and diesel are stored and handled in areas with good ventilation, keeping them away from potential ignition sources.
  • Carbon monoxide poses a significant challenge due to its odorless and tasteless nature, which often leads to workers unknowingly poisoning themselves. Workers frequently misinterpret the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning as exhaustion from excessive work. That’s why it is crucial for companies to install functional indoor environmental quality (IEQ) monitoring devices equipped with carbon monoxide sensors.
Managing carbon monoxide (CO) levels using uHoo Aura

uHoo Aura is an indoor environmental quality monitoring device that provides real-time monitoring of carbon monoxide levels in the workplace. Using uHoo Aura, employers and building managers can detect elevated levels of carbon monoxide and take prompt action to minimize the risk of exposure and potential health consequences for employees. 

By visualizing and providing data on CO levels, uHoo educates employees about the importance of maintaining a safe work environment and encourages responsible behavior to minimize CO exposure.

In addition to carbon monoxide, uHoo monitors various other indoor air quality parameters, such as temperature, humidity, particulate matter (PM1, PM4, PM2.5, PM10), total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs), air pressure, formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, light, and sound. 

This comprehensive device is also upgradeable to measure two more parameters namely nitrogen dioxide and ozone or choose one among sulfur dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia, based on the workplace’s needs and requirements. 

Embrace the power of technology and data-driven decision-making to minimize carbon monoxide exposure and create workplaces where employees can thrive without compromising their well-being. 

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