OSEA Safety Blog

The Seven Most Important Things to Know About Carbon Monoxide

Monday, May 13, 2019 Brenda Griffin

In the U.S. every year, at least 430 people die from accidental carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Approximately 50,000 people visit the emergency room each year due to accidental CO poisoning. There are steps you can take to help protect yourself and your household from this issue. Let’s start with an overview of the 7 most important things to know about CO.

1 - What it is

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, tasteless, colorless, on-irritating gas that can kill quickly. More people die from carbon monoxide poisoning than from any other kind of exposure!

2 - Where it comes from

Inside, CO comes from burning fuels in appliances and engines. Fuel types include natural gas, propane, oil, kerosene, coal, gasoline, and even wood (because these each are made up of carbon). It can also come from cigarette smoking.

3 - Common sources you may or may not have on the radar (remember – ventilation is always your best bet)


CO Poisoning Prevention Strategies

Heating appliances – furnaces, water heaters, portable non-electric space heaters

Conduct annual maintenance

Cooking appliance – non-electric kitchen ranges

Never operate for warmth

Use the overhead fan if you have one or crack a window if you don’t

Gas or briquette grills

Never use indoors or a semi-enclosed space like a garage, shed or porch

Never use for warmth

Portable generators

Never use inside or in a basement

Tools and equipment – lawn lowers, snow blowers, chain saws, pressure washers

Never use indoors or a semi-enclosed space like a garage, shed, porch, or crawl space.


Never idle in garage or other enclosed structure

Open up the garage door before turning on vehicle

Check exhaust pipe is clear of any accumulated snow

Drive with the air intake set to outside circulation and not inside circulation

Boats – engines, gas generators, cooking ranges, water heaters, other nearby boats.

Keep away from engine and generator exhaust outlets when engine is running.

Stay off back deck and away from swim platforms that are near exhaust outlets while engine is running.

Avoid idling boat in one place for extended periods.

4 - The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

Symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, nausea, weakness, loss of muscle control, shortness of breath, chest tightness, visual changes, sleepiness, fluttering of the heart, redness of the skin, or confusion.

There also may be mild behavioral effects such as slowed reaction time or altered driving skills. Depending on the degree and length of exposure, CO can cause suffocation, resulting in loss of consciousness, brain damage, or death.

5 – What to do if you are experiencing symptoms

If you believe you are experiencing an exposure, seek fresh air immediately. Turn off appliances and leave windows and doors open to help dissipate the gas. With extensive symptoms, seek immediate medical attention or call 911.

6 - How poisoning happens

CO poisoning happens when the combustion fumes are inhaled. When we breathe in too much our bodies replace oxygen in red blood cells with CO. This prevents oxygen from reaching tissues, heart, brain, and other vital organs.

7 - Why you need CO alarms (hint – they are required in NYS as well as just a good idea!)

New York State requires CO alarms in residences including single-and multiple-family homes, and in multiple dwellings such as hotels/motels, boarding houses, apartment buildings, fraternity and sorority buildings, and school dormitories. The requirements also apply to structures that have an attached garage or have appliances, devices or systems that may emit CO.

CO alarms are designed to provide warning as CO levels in the air approach dangerous levels. Install a CO alarm which is certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and is battery-powered or has a battery back-up. Test the CO alarm frequently, at least twice a year when clocks are adjusted for daylight saving time, and replace dead batteries when necessary. Read the CO alarm owner’s manual to learn about the warning sounds and how to test the device. CO alarms expire after several years. Replace the alarm as indicated by the manufacturer.

CO poisoning in entirely preventable. Don’t let yourself or your loved ones become a statistic.

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