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The dangers of carbon monoxide

The dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) are well publicised in the domestic world but it is something that few people ever give much thought to when they leave home on a morning, even though the risks from the ‘silent killer’ are just as great in the workplace.

CO is produced when faulty boilers, generators or any other combustion appliances, fail to properly burn carbon based fuels. If not all the fuel burns, it leaves excess CO in the atmosphere, which is extremely poisonous when inhaled.

If someone breathes in CO, their blood will struggle to carry oxygen around the body, which gradually starves cells, tissues and organs of the air they need to function. Early symptoms of CO poisoning are often confused with food poisoning, viral infections and ‘influenza’.

CO poisoning can sometimes result in long-term heart and brain damage but, if it’s spotted early enough, most people will make a full recovery. Many will start feeling better almost as soon as they leave the source of the CO, but it is always still a good idea to consult a doctor.

In order to minimise the risks of CO poisoning in the workplace, all boilers and fuel burning appliances need servicing at least once a year. In addition, vents and exhaust outlets should be checked regularly for obstructions and to ensure that gases can escape.

There are also a number of other warning signs that can indicate combustion problems in boilers and appliances that may result in CO being produced. These can include orange flames instead of blue flames, soot or brown staining on appliances and pilot lights that regularly go out.

When working with machinery which emit fumes, if the area is not well ventilated, then respirators may need to be used. Occasionally generators may need to be used if normal power sources are not available - these should always be located externally and never used within a closed environment.

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