Carbon monoxide in the work place – know the risks

Jon Lawson

Jamie Ross-Davies looks at the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning in the workplace, how it can occur, the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning to watch out for, signs of a faulty appliance

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless, tasteless poisonous gas which is often associated with domestic boilers.

However, it is important to note that carbon monoxide poisoning is a risk anywhere where a fuel-burning appliance is used, but especially when they are situated in confined spaces with little ventilation and air flow.

Whether its fuel-fired heating systems, water heaters, cooking appliances or emergency generation and maintenance operations – such as propane powered floor machines – they are all potential sources of carbon monoxide.

The heating and hot water to many commercial buildings such as residential blocks, schools and office blocks, is often provided by a centralised plant room. In many of these buildings, the plants rooms are unoccupied and are somewhat confined spaces.

When carbon monoxide occurs – be it due to faulty installation, poor repairs or insufficient maintenance – it will rapidly fill the space within the plant room before gradually seeping out into other occupied areas of the building.

Whilst the concentration, and therefore the fatality risk, will decrease the further it spreads, the carbon monoxide can still be concentrated enough to warrant hospital treatment for those who come into contact with it.

Carbon monoxide is virtually impossible to detect without the help of a carbon monoxide detector.

If you do have an alarm, it is imperative that there is also an emergency plan and trained personnel to deal with the problem.

Once the alarm sounds, the problem already has or currently is occurring – the risks are already present and if an untrained member of staff tries to address the issue, there could be serious consequences.

Prevention is better than cure

Whether domestic or commercial, maintenance of all fuel-fired appliances and equipment is vital for the safety of all occupants of the building.

Annual services are essential as they ensure that the appliance is in safe working order and will identify any potential faults or issues.

A qualified technician will also be able to check the carbon monoxide levels, the pressure of the system, potential water leaks and possibly most dangerously, that there are no gas leaks which could lead to carbon monoxide, fires and even explosions.

While an annual service will identify any components which are not working effectively, regular cleaning of the system is also highly recommended as it will help keep those components working efficiently.

Ensure that you have a service and maintenance plan in place. With the help of temporary boilers, regular checks and cleans can be hassle free, causing no disruption to you, your business or your customers.

Signs of a faulty appliance

If you notice any of the following, your appliance could be faulty and there may be carbon monoxide present. You should have it inspected straight away if:

* Gas flames burn orange or yellow – they should burn blue

* There are soot marks / stains on or above the fuel-fired appliance

* Coal or wood fires are struggling to stay alight

* Fire becomes difficult to ignite

* There is a blocked chimney or flue

* Low or high pressure to the boiler

* Banging or clanking noises from the boiler

* The boiler’s pilot light frequently goes out

* Increased condensation inside the windows

* A musty smell.

Carbon monoxide poisoning: the symptoms

You should also consider making yourself and colleagues aware of carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms, which are very similar to the flu with the exception of a high temperature. Symptoms are usually prevalent at work and subside away from the building (particularly noticeable when away for a week or two).

Mild exposure to carbon monoxide can cause the following:

* Headaches

* Dizziness

* Nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting

* Tiredness and confusion

* Stomach pain

* Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.

Exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide can include:

* Impaired mental state and/or change of behaviour

* Vertigo (it feels as if the room is spinning)

* Loss of physical co-ordination

* Breathlessness

* Tachycardia (a heart rate above 100bpm)

* Chest pain

* Seizures

* Loss of consciousness.

If you experience any of the above symptoms and think carbon monoxide may be the cause, seek medical advice immediately and state that you believe you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide.

You should also inform the Facilities Manager or whomever is in charge of the plant room at your work place so that a thorough investigation and any necessary measures can be taken.

Ideal Heat Solutions can provide the cover you need whilst a planned shutdown or repairs are carried out. They also offer emergency commercial boiler hire should you experience a boiler breakdown and need immediate help.

Jamie Ross-Davies is Business Development Manager of Ideal Heat Solutions

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