SafeWork SA issues carbon monoxide poisoning safety alert

SafeWork SA recently issued a safety alert warning employers about the risks of using fuel-powered vehicles and machinery in indoor environments following a spate of recent incidents involving carbon monoxide poisoning, including a workplace death.

The use of forklifts and plant within warehouses, workshops, factories, mines, sporting venues and other enclosed spaces presents a risk as the carbon monoxide emitted can reach dangerous levels in poorly ventilated areas.

Fuel-powered mobile plant used in cool rooms or refrigerated spaces poses a particular risk due to the unique nature of those environments.

Carbon monoxide is generated by internal combustion engines commonly fuelled by petrol, diesel and LPG, according to the alert, which said the gas is colourless, odourless and tasteless which means workers are generally unaware they have been exposed.

When inhaled, carbon monoxide stops the body from being able to absorb oxygen, which can impact a worker’s judgement and their ability to react to situations.

A person who is unaware they’re inhaling carbon monoxide may be at higher risk of other workplace injuries due to impaired judgement as well as the accumulative effects of continued exposure. 

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has a duty to ensure workers are not exposed to carbon monoxide levels exceeding the workplace exposure standard of 30ppm (averaged over an eight-hour work shift).

To reduce the risk of exposure to carbon monoxide, the alert said a PCBU should:

  •  where possible, substitute fuelled equipment with electric or manual equipment (e.g. electric forklifts or manual pallet jacks)
  • engage a competent person, such as an occupational hygienist, to undertake an assessment of the workplace, including air monitoring, to assist in identifying appropriate control measures
  • increase ventilation in enclosed or poorly ventilated areas
  • install carbon monoxide alarms/detectors in indoor workplaces in which fuelled equipment is used
  • ensure alarms are maintained and calibrated as per the manufacturer’s recommendations
  • ensure fuelled equipment is maintained appropriately, including regular servicing and inspections/assessments of exhaust systems.

Furthermore, a PCBU must consult workers or their health and safety representative to identify hazards in the workplace and identify appropriate control measures to minimise the risks. Workers should be provided with information regarding:

  •  health risks of exposure to carbon monoxide, including possible symptoms of exposure
  • policies/procedures for appropriate responses if carbon monoxide alarms start sounding in the workplace
  • internal procedures for reporting incidents