As firefighters we know that Carbon Monoxide is a silent killer. It is a danger for us on all emergency incidents, so we are well versed on the dangers. Every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hundreds of people in the U.S. die from carbon-monoxide (CO) poisoning—and the invisible, odorless gas sickens thousands more.
The numbers seem even more tragic when you consider that most of these deaths and illnesses are preventable. Here are tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to help protect yourself and your loved ones at home and work.
- Make sure you have CO alarms—and that they work. You should have a CO alarm on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas. Test them and replace batteries regularly, too. The alarms themselves should be replaced every five years or as recommended by the manufacturer.
- Get your chimney and furnace checked. A chimney or furnace that isn’t functioning properly can lead to CO buildup inside your home. Have a professional examination and/or service before you begin using them.
- Be careful with generators and grills. Neither should ever be used inside your home or in an enclosed space, such as a garage—even semi-enclosed spaces like porches can be risky, too. Keep generators at least 20 feet away from the house when in operation.
In general, the same precautions for homes apply here, but there are a few additional considerations for the workplace, particularly one where gas-powered machinery is used:
- Be mindful of ventilation. Every year, workers are poisoned by CO while using fuel-burning equipment in areas that don’t have adequate ventilation.
- Try using different tools indoors. Consider electric tools or ones powered by compressed air, and if possible, avoid using forklifts, pressure washers and other gas-powered equipment. Ensure machinery and tools are maintained properly, too.
- Report unsafe conditions or issues. If you see something that might cause CO buildup, or you suspect CO poisoning in you or a co-worker, get people out of the area and report the problem to your employer immediately.
Whether you’re at home or work, always be on the lookout for symptoms of CO exposure: They include dizziness, drowsiness, headaches and nausea. If you suspect an issue, leave the area as soon as possible and call 911—because when it comes to CO, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Top image by Flickr user Yutaka Seki used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 2.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.