OSHA is reminding employers to take precautions to protect workers from the potentially fatal effects of carbon monoxide exposure during the operation of portable generators and other equipment in enclosed spaces.
Carbon monoxide – a colorless, odorless, toxic gas – is produced by equipment that uses combustion to operate. Such equipment includes space heaters, compressors, power tools, pumps, furnaces, gas-powered forklifts, welding equipment and motorized vehicles. Symptoms of overexposure include headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting and tightness in the chest. Severe carbon monoxide overexposure can cause neurological damage, coma and death.
The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases during the winter months, when fuel-burning equipment and tools are used in buildings or spaces without sufficient ventilation.
OSHA resources include a pair of fact sheets, Using Portable Generators Safely and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, that address specific hazards related to use of the equipment and provide information on how to keep workers safe during operation.
The agency cautions workers to never use generators indoors or in spaces such as garages, crawl spaces or basements – even if doors and windows are open. Other tips:
- Make sure generators have 3 to 4 feet of clearance on all sides and above to ensure adequate ventilation.
- Do not place a generator near doors, windows or vents that could allow carbon monoxide to enter a building or an enclosed space.
- If a worker shows symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, get the worker to fresh air and seek medical attention immediately. Do not re-enter the area until it has been deemed safe by trained and properly equipped personnel.
Between 1992 and 2008, 22 workers were killed annually by work-related carbon monoxide exposure, according to a 2013 NIOSH study.