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There’s a reason electric and liquid propane forklifts are made for indoor use and gasoline and diesel forklifts are for outdoor use. The latter expel carbon monoxide exhaust as a byproduct of the internal combustion process.
Carbon monoxide is highly toxic to people. It’s also odorless, colorless, and completely silent. So if you are caught in an enclosed space such as an indoor dock or warehouse where there is a buildup of carbon monoxide exhaust from a gas or diesel fueled forklift, you could be overwhelmed by poisonous CO before you even know what’s happening.
Forklifts and CO Poisoning
It’s not uncommon for forklift operators and other employees to suffer the effects of CO poisoning. Sometimes it’s necessary to drive a gas or diesel forklift indoors briefly to make a delivery or to move some materials. And if the area is properly ventilated — for example if the garage or dock door is left wide open or the area has an exhaust system that adequately removes the CO from the atmosphere before it can be inhaled by workers — it’s generally not an issue.
But problems occur when the forklift is driven into an unventilated area or if the vehicle is left idling while the driver gets off to adjust a load. Every second the forklift is running, the CO is building up indoors, creating an increasingly hazardous environment for everybody working there.
Common Sense CO Guidelines
Controlling the amount of CO buildup in your workplace from gas or diesel forklifts running indoors is often just a matter of common sense. If these vehicles need to be driven inside, make sure there is enough ventilation to remove the CO before it reaches potentially hazardous levels.
Consider installing CO detectors that can monitor levels of the hazardous gas and emit an audible alarm when it exceeds safe levels. Or require workers to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as ventilators when working with outdoor forklifts being driven indoors.
Better yet, don’t put your workers at risk at all. Prohibit gas and diesel forklifts from driving into unventilated areas. Instead, use the proper equipment for the job at hand — in this instance, electric or LP forklifts for indoor work and gas and diesel for outdoors.
CO can build up to dangerous levels very quickly. Levels of only 800 ppm can be harmful to human health. Higher exposures such as 12,000 ppm can lead to nearly instantaneous death.
Don’t take chances with the lives of your employees. Use common sense when working with dangerous emission in enclosed spaces.