Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas produced by incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels, including gas, oil, wood, and coal. It is only when fuel does not burn fully that excess CO is produced, which is poisonous. When CO enters the body, it stops the blood from bringing oxygen to cells, tissues, and organs. CO is poisonous as you cannot see it, taste it, or smell it but CO can kill quickly without warning.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prohibit worker exposure to more than 20ppm (parts per million) during an 8-hour long term exposure period and 100ppm (parts per million) during a 15 minute short term exposure period.
OSHA standards prohibit worker exposure to more than 50 parts of CO gas per million parts of air averaged during an 8-hour time period. The 8-hour PEL for CO in maritime operations is also 50 ppm. Maritime workers, however, must be removed from exposure if the CO concentration in the atmosphere exceeds 100 ppm. The peak CO level for employees engaged in roll-on roll-off operations during cargo loading and unloading) is 200 ppm.
What are the dangers?
CO volume (parts per million (ppm) Physical Effects
200 ppm Headache in 2–3 hours
400 ppm Headache and nausea in 1–2 hours, life threatening within 3 hours.
800 ppm Can cause seizures, severe headaches and vomiting in under an hour, unconsciousness within 2 hours.
1,500 ppm Can cause dizziness, nausea, and unconsciousness in under 20 minutes; death within 1 hour
6,400 ppm Can cause unconsciousness after two to three breaths: death within 15 minutes
Around 10 to 15% of people who obtain serve CO poisoning go on to develop long-term complications. These include brain damage, vision and hearing loss, Parkinson’s disease, and coronary heart disease.
What are the health implications?
Due to the characteristics of CO being so hard to identify, i.e., colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas, it may take time for you to realise that you have CO poisoning. The effects of CO can be dangerous.
|Implication to Health||Physical Effects|
|Oxygen Deprivation||CO prevents the blood system from effectively carrying oxygen around the body, specifically to vital organs such as the heart and brain. High doses of CO, therefore, can cause death from asphyxiation or lack of oxygen to the brain.|
|Central Nervous system and Heart Problems||As CO prevents the brain from receiving sufficient levels of oxygen it has a knock-on effect with the heart, brain, and central nervous system. Symptoms including headaches, nausea, fatigue, memory loss and disorientation.
Increased levels of CO in the body go on to cause lack of balance, heart problems, comas, convulsions and even death. Some of those who are affected may experience rapid and irregular heartbeats, low blood pressure and arrhythmias of the heart. Cerebral edemas caused because of CO poisoning are especially threatening, this is because they can result in the brain cells being crushed, thereby affecting the whole nervous system.
|Respiratory System||As the body struggles to distribute air around the body as a result of carbon monoxide due to the deprivation of blood cells of oxygen. Some patients will experience a shortness of breath, especially when undertaking strenuous activities.
Every-day physical and sporting activities will take more effort and leave you feeling more exhausted than usual. These effects can worsen over time as your body’s power to obtain oxygen becomes increasingly compromised.
Over time, both your heart and lungs are put under pressure as the levels of carbon monoxide increase in the body tissues. As a result, your heart will try harder to pump what it wrongly perceives to be oxygenated blood from your lungs to the rest of your body. Consequently, the airways begin to swell causing even less air to enter the lungs. With long-term exposure, the lung tissue is eventually destroyed, resulting in cardiovascular problems and lung disease.
|Chronic Exposure||Chronic exposure can have extremely serious long-term effects, depending on the extent of poisoning. In extreme cases, the section of the brain known as the hippocampus may be harmed. This part of the brain is accountable for the development of new memories and is particularly vulnerable to damage.
Whilst those who suffer from long-term effects of carbon monoxide poisoning recover with time, there are cases in which some people suffer permanent effects. This may occur when there has been enough exposure to result in organ and brain damage.
|Unborn Babies||Since foetal haemoglobin mixes more readily with CO than adult haemoglobin, the baby’s carboxy haemoglobin levels become higher than the mothers. Babies and children whose organs are still maturing are at risk of permanent organ damage.
Additionally, young children and infants breathe faster than adults and have a higher metabolic rate, therefore, they inhale up to twice as much air as adults, especially when sleeping, which heightens their exposure to CO.
How to meet compliance?
The best way to protect yourself from the hazards of CO is be wearing a high quality, portable CO gas detector.
Clip SGD is designed for use in hazardous areas whilst offering reliable and durable fixed life span monitoring in a compact, lightweight and maintenance free device. Clip SGD has a 2-year life and is available for hydrogen sulphide (H2S), carbon monoxide (CO) or oxygen (O2). The Clip SDG personal gas detector is designed to withstand the harshest industrial working conditions and delivers industry leading alarm time, changeable alarm levels and event logging as well as user-friendly bump test and calibration solutions.
Gasman with specialist CO sensor is a rugged, compact single gas detector, designed for use in the toughest environments. Its compact and lightweight design makes it the ideal choice for industrial gas detection. Weighing just 130g, it is extremely durable, with high impact resistance and dust/water ingress protection, loud 95 dB alarms, a vivid red/ blue visual warning, single-button control and an easy-to-read, backlit LCD display to ensure clear viewing of gas level readings, alarm conditions and battery life. Data and event logging are available as standard, and there is a built-in 30-day advance warning when calibration is due.