Be suspicious of CO poisoning if you develop headache, flushed face, dizziness or weakness. Bear in mind that although CO has no telltale odor, it may mix with gases which do have an odor. Thus, the smell of other gases doesn't mean an absence of CO.
If you have a heart condition, your condition may be aggravated by CO. Ingestion of barbiturates and alcohol may increase the gas' health effects. Further, smokers will have higher carboxyhemoglobin than non-smokers, and therefore face higher risk from carbon monoxide exposures on the job.
Harmful levels of CO are a potential danger to: acetylene workers, blast furnace workers, boiler room workers, brewery workers, carbon black makers, coke oven workers, customs workers, diesel engine operators, dock workers, garage mechanics, metal oxide reducers, miners, organic chemical synthesizers, petroleum refinery workers, pulp and paper workers, steel workers, toll booth and tunnel attendants, and warehouse workers.
Large amounts of carbon monoxide can kill in minutes. The more CO in the air and the longer you are exposed to it, the greater the danger. Any one or more of the following symptoms can signal CO poisoning: headaches, tightness across the chest, nausea, drowsiness, inattention or fatigue. As the amount of CO in the air increases, more serious symptoms develop such as lack of coordination, weakness and confusion.
The poisoning can be reversed if caught in time. But even if you recover, acute poisoning may result in permanent damage to the parts of your body which require a lot of oxygen, such as the heart and brain.
There is a significant reproductive risk involved with CO. An American Journal of Industrial Medicine article quotes two studies showing that acute CO exposures that were non-lethal to the mother were associated with fetal loss.
If you suspect CO, get out of the area and into the open fresh air. Remove anyone overcome by the gas immediately and give the person artificial respiration. Call for a physician and continue the artificial respiration until the doctor arrives or the person recovers. Prompt action can make the difference between life and death.
Note: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard for exposure to CO prohibits workers' exposure to more than 35 parts of the gas per million parts of air (ppm), averaged over an 8-hour workday. There is also a ceiling limit of 200 ppm (as measured over a 15-minute period).
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