Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Last updated: January 15, 2019

What Does Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Mean?

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a medical condition that occurs when an individual inhales too much carbon monoxide (CO).

It initially causes symptoms such as dizziness, headache, and vomiting. In severe cases, it can even cause death.

Safeopedia Explains Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Individuals affected by carbon monoxide poisoning suffer from insufficient oxygen, as carbon monoxide bonds with hemoglobin to prevent blood from absorbing oxygen from the lungs and transporting it around the body. When CO bonds with hemoglobin, the resulting molecule is called carboxyhemoglobin (HbCO). A diagnosis of CO poisoning is given whenever blood contains 3% HbCO in nonsmokers or 10% HbCO in smokers.

Carbon monoxide is the most common cause of occupational gas poisoning. Gas-powered engines such as those found in most vehicles emit carbon monoxide and can poison workers if fumes are emitted into an area without proper ventilation. Many types of fire, kilns, and gas-burning furnaces also pose a risk of CO exposure.

OSHA, NIOSH, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) all supply differing exposure limits for CO. The OSHA standard, which is legally mandatory across all U.S. workplaces, limits employee exposure to 50 ppm over an eight-hour period (time weighted average). NIOSH’s eight-hour standard is 35 ppm, and the ACGIH standard—which has no legal force but is internationally recognized—is 25 ppm.

Furthermore, OSHA’s safety obligations require the use of testing and monitoring alarms in areas where an employer can reasonably expect that exposure to carbon monoxide may occur. As OSHA’s exposure limits are based on the assumption that the workers are young and healthy, individuals with certain medical conditions—such as cardiovascular conditions, which are exacerbated by carbon monoxide—may be less able to conduct work within these limits.


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