This week WorkSafe reminds the building industry to be aware of the health and safety risks associated with the use of internal combustion-engine powered equipment, particularly the potential for the emission of carbon monoxide gas.
Recently, two men in the Northern Territory were rushed to hospital with carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning after a portable petrol generator was left running in a building stairwell where they worked.
The incident shows that even small engines like those in demo-saws, brick-saws and generators can produce high enough concentrations of CO to pose serious danger to workers.
Operating this type of equipment outdoors may not completely avert the risk of CO poisoning as the gas can be drawn into buildings through openings and accumulate in excavations.
It’s also important to remember that if equipment has been used before without incident, this doesn’t mean CO emissions from this equipment will continue to be safe with future use – risks should be reassessed at each use.
CO is a highly poisonous gas and has the potential to cause illness, permanent neurological damage and death.
Increased levels of CO are hard to detect because it is colourless, odourless and non-irritating, and dangerous concentrations of the gas in the air can be reached within short periods of time.
The effects can occur so quickly that a worker risks being incapacitated before they even realise they are in danger.
Employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 to control risks to health and safety associated with construction work. These risks may include exposure to carbon monoxide.
As part of managing the risk associated with CO, all workers who could potentially be affected by CO should be provided with information, instruction and training on how to control this risk.
Employers must also provide the supervision necessary to ensure effective risk controls for CO are implemented.
Click here for more information about managing CO risks in poorly ventilated environments.
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