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So, Your CO Detector Is Going Off?

By Rob Chernish
Published: October 30, 2014 | Last updated: October 30, 2014 09:12:42
Key Takeaways

What to do when your carbon monoxide detector goes off.

Source: Angela Farley/

Carbon Monoxide And Industry

If you are in an industry that depends on the use of air detectors for safety, then it can be one of the scariest moments when your detector sounds off. Having a carbon monoxide (CO) detector is becoming more and more standard across a variety of occupations where harmful gases may be trapped or flow freely. In fact, while traditionally assigned to oil field and mining industries, the CO detector is being worn by many city workers and other urban workers who are in proximity to power plants and other gaseous areas.

The CO detector is also available as a stand-alone unit for mounting in offices, homes, and oil shacks so your air is tested. A CO detector at a basic level tests for carbon monoxide, which is a harmful gas. Other more advanced air detection units can sniff out sulphur dioxide or so-called sour gas.

Make a Plan

A CO detector works by reading and analyzing the air around you to detect harmful levels of poisonous gas. When it picks up a reading of harmful gas, an alarm will sound, then you must get yourself to safety. If you are on a job site, then the best thing to do is have a safe zone already allocated upwind. If you are in more extreme environments and have a gas mask, then don your protective breathing apparatus at the moment your alarm sounds.


As part of your regular hazard analysis, always know what direction the prevailing wind is coming from, and where the possible hazards are most likely to occur so you can designate a safe muster point. (For more information on choosing a safe muster point, check out Muster Points: How to Keep Your Team Safe During an Emergency)

Treat these alarms like any other emergency and follow evacuation and muster point procedures.

Choose the Right Detector

There are a wide range of carbon monoxide detectors available on the market, so there is no excuse not too have one. Some of these styles include:

  • Smoke / Carbon Monoxide Combined (Multi-Area): This detector is both a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector and can be installed in homes, offices, garages, and pretty much anywhere with electricity

  • AC Style / Plug-In Style (Multi-Area): This is a device that plugs into a normal wall adapter

  • Spot Detectors / Portable / Handheld (Mobile Use): When it comes to spot detection, these units can be great for emergency personnel using gas masks to locate spot leaks in actively-leaking zones

  • Digital Readout Detectors (Residential Use): These have an added advantage by displaying the levels in your home with an LCD or other digital readout. These can provide added value by giving you progress readings in parts per million so you can monitor your air and see if levels are increasing or decreasing, and fix them before they become dangerous

  • Hardwired / Interconnected (Office use): These operate through a direct wire, giving it power and usually a backup supply. The unit is connected directly to the building's power supply through an external line, through the generator or power line, and is usually installed by a professional. It is typically interconnected to the other alarms in the building, which triggers the emergency alarms, evacuation, and muster procedures

Carbon Monoxide in the Home

Carbon monoxide is becoming an increasing issue of compliance, especially for Ontario, Canada residents, where law recently put into effect that all homes and dwellings are required to have carbon monoxide detectors. Carbon monoxide in the home can come from any fuel-burning heating equipment. This includes fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, space or portable heaters, portable generators, and chimneys. Using a gas stove as an alternative heat source can cause carbon monoxide fumes to fill the home. Running a vehicle inside a garage is a danger zone for build up of poisonous carbon monoxide that can fill the garage space as well as leak into the home.


What Should I Do If My Alarm Goes Off?

If you are in your home and the carbon monoxide alarm goes off, get to fresh air as quickly as possible and call 9-1-1. Explain that your carbon monoxide alarm has gone off and wait outside until emergency responders arrive.

If you have a gas mask or other contained air supply, then put it on and follow these steps to prevent the leak from releasing more harmful gases:

  1. Shutdown all your fuel sources including stove, heating, and other gas and fuel lines

  2. Engage a fresh air source by opening windows, doors, and vents wherever possible

  3. Call emergency services department starting with the fire department

  4. Call an emergency service that deals with the appliance that could be leaking. Some items include catalytic heaters, and hot water heaters

  5. Make sure everyone in the area is accounted for

  6. Stay clear of the premises until official clearance has been announced

Carbon monoxide is dangerous, and can affect any workplace or home environment. Make sure your coworkers and family are safe from dangerous gas leaks by ensuring your CO detector is working properly. Do a monthly check to be sure the batteries are still working, and the detector is functioning as it should. Remember, if your alarm goes off, get everyone outside quickly and call 9-1-1.


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Written by Rob Chernish

A writer from Canada with firsthand experience in Oil, Gas, Mining, and environmental safety.

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