Carbon Monoxide: How to Keep Your Crew Safe Around Generators

At a job site, construction workers can experience many health hazards that can result in injury, disability, or even death. When colder weather occurs, workers bring some construction gear inside to do their job. This may include generators. Without the right ventilation, generators can cause carbon monoxide to enter the air and poison your workers. It is a colorless and odorless gas, making it hard to detect.

Keep reading to learn how to keep your crew safe around generators. You can also know what to do if one of your crew members becomes ill from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon Monoxide and Generators

Generators let your crew continue to work with tools that need electricity. This is handy when the job site doesn’t have power or has regular power outages. Portable generators can power hand tools such as spray guns, nail guns, air compressors, and circular saws. The machines can provide industrial lighting. They can also keep the job site warm so you can pour concrete. High-capacity units can even send power to heavy machinery.

A portable generator takes in fuel and converts it into electricity. There are four parts to a generator. They include the engine, fuel source, generator powerhead, and power outlet. A generator operates with either liquid-or gas-powered fuel. The liquid comes in the form of diesel or gasoline. Gas comes in propane or natural gas. The fuel provides power via the generator head. Then it creates a surge of electrons. Your crew can attach their tools to the generator to power them.

However, your crew should remember that portable generators give off carbon monoxide. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that there are four main dangers when using a generator at a construction site. One involves carbon monoxide poisoning. To prevent this, workers must be cautious when working with one in a closed space. You must make sure there is plenty of ventilation available for all your crew members.

Risks of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

According to the Communications Workers of America, thousands of American workers die each year from carbon monoxide exposure. Another 10,000 suffer from high-level exposure to toxic gas. It is a difficult gas to detect. That’s because the gas has no odor, taste, or color.

When oxygen and carbon mix with the air, the toxic gas forms. Carbon monoxide can then enter the bloodstream if your workers breathe it in. The gas can combine with hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin. This interferes with the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity.

The foreman or site supervisor should watch for any carbon monoxide poisoning warning signs. Common low-level symptoms include the following:

  • Nausea
  • A headache
  • Dizziness
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Drowsiness.

Those who suffer from angina may experience sudden chest pain. Prolonged or high exposure to carbon monoxide can make symptoms worse. Exposure can also cause confusion, rapid pulse, vomiting, and loss of coordination. High exposure can lead to convulsions, coma, or death. It also affects those who have hypoxia. This means they have a severe oxygen deficiency. It might cause them permanent brain or heart issues.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure vary. Poisoning may occur sooner in those with weak immune symptoms. It also may affect those with heart or lung disease sooner. Crew members who work at high altitudes and those who already have high carbon monoxide blood levels, such as smokers, may also experience symptoms sooner. Pregnant women should know that poisoning can affect fetuses.

If caught early enough, carbon monoxide poisoning can be reversed. However, acute poisoning may cause permanent damage to areas of the body that need a lot of oxygen. This includes the heart and brain. There is also a high reproductive risk.

OSHA has established a permissible exposure limit (PEL) for carbon monoxide. This takes into account that workers have 8-hour workdays. The safe amount is a PEL of 50 parts per million time-weighted average (TWA). In addition, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) states that some workers are more sensitive to carbon monoxide compared to others. As a result, it recommends an exposure limit (REL) of 35 parts per million TWA. This is also for an 8-hour workday.

Other Carbon Monoxide Hazards

Besides generators, there are other potential hazards at the job site that can produce carbon monoxide and make crew members sick. Almost any type of machinery that runs on diesel or propane releases carbon monoxide. Gas-powered tools also give off carbon monoxide. These tools include air compressors, concrete cutters, and water pumps. Workers must be very cautious when using them in small, confined spaces.

Motor vehicles are another common source of carbon monoxide. Workers should not leave vehicles running in areas above where employees work. For instance, they should never leave a vehicle running near a worker in a trench. The vehicle’s exhaust can enter the trench. This can cause the levels of carbon monoxide to increase. Then the worker may inhale the fumes and become ill.

During the winter months, fuel-burning heaters are a common source of heat — but also a source of carbon monoxide. Workers sometimes use these heaters to pour concrete. This gives them a stable ground temperature. Welding equipment produces some gases too, including carbon monoxide. If you use any of these types of machinery inside, make sure there is enough ventilation nearby.

How Generator Manufacturers Are Responding

Companies know that there are many carbon monoxide deaths and poisonings each year. Portable generator manufacturing companies took note of the risks in using their machines. They worked with the Portable Generator Manufacturers’ Association (PGMA) to form a plan. They adopted carbon monoxide monitoring as part of building code regulations. They also formed committees to increase awareness of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) has also gotten involved. It proposed rules for manufacturers to reduce emissions. The CPSC is working on creating a shut-off valve. This valve would turn off the generator if there is a high level of carbon monoxide in the area.

How to Keep Your Crew Safe Around Generators and Carbon Monoxide

Reduce the Risk

Construction managers and foremen should follow a few simple tips to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. The best way is to eliminate the potential hazard from the job site. If that’s not an option, keep the equipment in proper working order and install a carbon monoxide alarm and a detector. This can decrease the risk of emitting toxic gas.

You can also substitute a gas- or propane-powered piece of equipment for a battery-powered one. If you cannot use a battery-powered tool, make sure the job site has enough ventilation. To help your crew breathe better, give them a self-contained breathing apparatus.

One of the most important ways to reduce the carbon monoxide risk is to arm your crew with information and training about potential hazards. That way if one of the crew members suspects or experiences exposure to the toxic gas, he or she knows the appropriate treatment options.

Maintain Enough Ventilation

On a job site, you must reduce the risk of carbon monoxide exposure to your crew members. To do this, make sure that the site has proper ventilation and fresh air. You can install a ventilation system to remove carbon monoxide from the area. This system should operate all the time while workers are nearby. The air collected is discharged into the outside air. You can also install portable exhaust devices. These can remove gas from enclosed or underground job sites.

Some work areas use collecting systems. These systems return the air to the work area. If you use these types of systems, make sure that the harmful fumes are discharged safely and securely. That way the workers do not suffer from harmful exposure.

Workers can also take safety measures to have proper ventilation. They can wear personal protective equipment (PPE). One PPE that works well is a particulate-filter respirator. It is also called a dust-filter or fume respirator. This piece of equipment works best for short spurts of exposure. It removes most of the toxic gas from the air before the crew member breathes in the air. Crew members should also take plenty of breaks. They should leave their enclosed workspaces and go outside. They need to breathe in plenty of fresh oxygen when around toxic fumes.

Change to Battery-Powered Vehicles and Equipment

Another way to reduce the risk is to stop using any gas-powered equipment. This includes generators, vehicles, and other construction equipment. Instead, use battery-powered generators and vehicles. There have been recent advances in lithium-ion battery technology. This means that batteries can work just as well as gas-powered equipment.

A benefit to battery-operated equipment is that it needs less maintenance. Gas-related parts need more upkeep. It is a more eco-friendly and quieter option, and you don’t worry about running out of gas or oil.

There are several downsides to switching to battery-powered options. The initial cost is more expensive. Over time, however, will you save on gas, oil, parts and labor, and stabilizers. The batteries also have a fixed running time. You must make sure you charge the battery before use. Keep an eye on its running time, or you might end up using up the battery completely.

What to Do If Someone Is Poisoned

Every job site needs a foreman or supervisor who knows the warning signs and flu-like symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. If a crew member experiences poisoning, the foreman must know what to do next. It’s important that the person in charge acts quickly. The victim needs to be taken to the hospital right away.

If that isn’t possible, the foreman should remove the victim from the area as quickly as possible. They should both go outside. The victim should lie down. If there is bad weather, the foreman should still have the victim lie down inside. However, the foreman must try to open a door or window to the outside. That way fresh oxygen can enter the room.

If the victim isn’t breathing, the foreman can give CPR or use resuscitation equipment. It is important to be careful with CPR during this phase. The foreman may be exposed to fatal levels of carbon monoxide poisoning. For the victim to get better, he or she needs a high dose of oxygen. Inhaling oxygen can speed up healing. Oxygen can remove the toxic gas from the blood.

Afterward, the victim must go to the hospital or medical facility. The victim needs to be treated by a physician. If he or she has severe carbon monoxide poisoning, the victim might go in a hyperbaric oxygen pressure chamber. The chamber gives higher doses of oxygen. Almost all of the toxic gas is gone from the bloodstream within 8 to 10 hours. It doesn’t matter what the level of carbon monoxide exposure is.


When you use a generator at your job site, you must keep your crew safe. Failing to do so can leave workers at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure that if they use a generator inside, the area remains properly ventilated. You can also equip your workers with respirators to help them breathe.

Your foreman or supervisor must know what the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are. He or she also needs to know what to do in case someone from the crew has carbon monoxide poisoning. Victims must be removed from the area right away. They must also get oxygen quickly. From there, the victim must go to the hospital or medical facility and get thoroughly checked out.

You can reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning by renting battery-powered equipment. This option can also save you money. Look into a lift rental. Many telescopic boom lifts have electrical outlets on the platform. You can plug in equipment on the lift’s base. You can also use these lifts to operate power washers since air and water lines can run to the boom platform.

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