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Gas Hazards: Carbon Monoxide

Gas Hazards: Carbon Monoxide

Posted by Claire Allcock on 17th Jul 2020

Carbon Monoxide is a common gas that detectors monitor for across a range of industries. But what is it, and why is it such a hazard in some workplaces?

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless gas that is produced from the incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels. Carbon monoxide is also flammable with an LEL of 4%, but it’s toxic properties are usually more of a concern within a working environment.

This gas shouldn’t be confused with carbon dioxide, which is produced from complete combustion of carbon-based fuels, and is almost completely inert to the human body. The only real danger carbon dioxide presents is its ability to displace oxygen in an enclosed area if rapidly released in large volumes.

Where Carbon Monoxide is Found

In the petroleum refining industry, catalytic cracking can generate huge amounts of carbon monoxide. However, the gas is usually confined to the piping and vessels, and does not get released to the atmosphere. Due to the risk of leaks, personnel must wear portable detectors that detect carbon monoxide.

Combustion burners that use carbon-based fuels may produce excess carbon monoxide if the air/fuel mixture is too rich. Even at an optimal concentration, there will always be some carbon monoxide present, making high concentrations possible if the burner is located in an enclosed space.

Why is Carbon Monoxide a Hazard?

Carbon monoxide is dangerous to people and animals due to its ability to bind to haemoglobin molecules in the blood. This reduces the body’s capacity to transport oxygen to the rest of the body, resulting in asphyxiation from within.

Large amounts of carbon monoxide can overcome you in minutes with no warning, leaving you unconscious until you asphyxiate.

Initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include tightness of the chest, as well as headaches, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness and nausea. During prolonged or high exposures, vomiting, confusion, muscle weakness and loss of consciousness can occur.

Carbon monoxide can be reversed if it is caught relatively quickly; although poisoning can result in permanent damage to oxygen-rich organs such as the heart and brain.

Just because carbon monoxide could potentially be present in an environment, doesn’t mean that your workplace is dangerous. Utilising a comprehensive fixed and portable gas detection system will ensure that your workforce is fully protected against any hazards that may occur.