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Carbon monoxide is a chemical byproduct found in the exhaust of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, including gas- and diesel-powered forklifts.
Running your gas-powered forklift indoors without adequate ventilation can create an unsafe buildup of carbon monoxide. Unfortunately, because CO is an invisible, odorless gas, your workers may be in mortal danger before anybody even realizes there is a problem.
Forklift Safety — CO Hazards
When there are dangerously high levels of CO in an enclosed space, such as a warehouse or dock without open windows or doors, the toxic chemical can displace oxygen in the blood. When that happens, the heart, brain, and other vital organs in the body become deprived of oxygen.
Symptoms of CO poisoning include headaches, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness. Small amounts of CO exposure don’t usually result in a serious illness. But larger amounts increase the risk of health problems. And very high exposure levels can result in instant death.
According to the Communication Workers of America (CWA), CO exposure is the toxic agent that leads to more death than any others except alcohol. Another 10,000 workers per year suffer from the debilitating effects of exposure to high levels of CO.
Forklift Safety — Reducing the CO Risk
There are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of exposing your workers to CO in the workplace. The first and most effective is to ensure there is an adequate ventilation system in any area where forklifts are used.
If you run forklifts indoors, consider switching from gas-powered vehicles to those that run on batteries. And avoid running gas-powered vehicles in an enclosed space, such as garages or docks.
To warn workers of CO dangers, install CO monitors with audible alarms anywhere that the risk of CO exposure is high. There are many CO monitors that can be hung on the wall just like smoke detectors, as well as personal CO monitors that can be worn as part of an employee’s Personal Protective Equipment.
If gas-powered forklifts must be run in enclosed spaces, consider equipping workers with respirators with the appropriate canisters that can be used for the short period of time when CO levels are high.
Finally, educate workers on the hazards of CO exposure so that they can make the best health decisions when working near gas-powered forklifts and other industrial equipment that uses gasoline or diesel fuel.