This GBCA Safety Toolbox Talk discusses space heaters and carbon monoxide. Construction sites regularly use portable space heaters of varying sizes to keep workers warm. In addition to space heaters being a fire hazard, they are also a hazard because of carbon monoxide emissions. Click below to download the Toolbox Talk as a handout (includes Sign-In Sheet).
Space Heaters and Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Construction sites regularly use portable space heaters of varying sizes to keep workers warm. Some of these are placed in large, open spaces, but space heaters are also used in smaller, enclosed spaces. In addition to space heaters being a fire hazard, they are also a hazard because of carbon monoxide emissions.
Many portable heaters are fueled by propane, natural gas, or kerosene, all of which can emit carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a clear, colorless gas that you can’t smell or taste. Carbon monoxide is often mixed with other gases that do have an odor. So, you can inhale carbon monoxide right along with gases that you can smell and not even know that carbon monoxide is present.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide is harmful when breathed because it displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives the heart, brain and other vital organs of oxygen.
The body absorbs carbon monoxide 200 times faster than oxygen. Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when the body cannot get enough oxygen because it is absorbing more carbon monoxide than oxygen. In other words, the body effectively asphyxiates on carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be reversed if caught in time. But even if you recover, acute poisoning may result in permanent damage to the parts of your body that require a lot of oxygen much as the heart and brain. Significant reproductive risk is also linked to carbon monoxide.
Recognizing and Responding to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- Early signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:
- Dull headache
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Continued exposure can lead to loss of consciousness, arrested breathing, heart failure, and death.
- Seek fresh air immediately if you feel any symptoms while working in a space with a space heater.
- If someone exhibits symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, move them into fresh air and call for medical assistance immediately.
Safety Tips for Portable Heaters
Most portable heaters are fueled by a Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). Common LPG fuels for space heaters include propane, butane, isobutane, ethane, ethylene, propylene, butylene and isobutylene.
- Ensure that the room/space is well-ventilated and has access to fresh air.
- Only workers who’ve been properly trained should operate a heater.
- The cylinder connected to a heater should be at least 10 feet away from the unit.
- Keep the flame end of the heater pointed away from the cylinder and away from flammable materials. Heat from a burner can ignite materials well past the burner’s end.
- Make sure flammable, liquid-fired heaters are equipped with a primary safety control to shut off fuel flow in case the light or flame goes out.
- Secure the fuel tank in an upright position.
- Never store used or extra LPG containers inside. Only those in use should be present.
- For temporary heating, heaters should be located at least 6 feet from any LPG container. (This does not prohibit the use of heaters specifically designed for attachment to the container.)
- Blower and radiant type heaters should not be directed toward any LPG container within 20 feet.
- If two or more heater-container units are located in an unpartitioned area on the same floor, the LPG container of each unit shall be separated from the LPG container of any other unit by at least 20 feet.
- Never leave an operating heater unattended during non-working hours.
- Allow the heater to cool down before it is re-fueled.
- Always turn off the gas supply when the heater is not in-use.
Remember to record the attendees of your toolbox talk!