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Carbon monoxide linked to generator use in workplace

With Queensland battered by heavy rains in recent weeks, and more predicted, businesses are reminded that cleaning up after storms comes with a range of risks to health and safety.

Recently, a man died after being overcome by carbon monoxide while laying carpet in a Toowoomba store. A generator was being used in a poorly ventilated space.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas emitted by operating petrol and, to a lesser extent, diesel powered engines. Because CO is colourless, tasteless and odourless, it has the potential to go undetected. When CO is breathed in, it prevents the blood from carrying oxygen to cells, tissues and organs.

Generators are handy in flood clean-ups, but they must be used in a safe way. Atmospheres in enclosed spaces should be monitored using a suitable air monitoring device (e.g. gas detector) where plant and equipment exhaust is generated. Ensure exhaust gases are ventilated to prevent the build-up of contaminant exhaust gases, including CO.

This risk can be reduced by operating generators and other fuel-powered equipment outdoors wherever possible and establishing and maintaining a comprehensive respiratory protection program, as well as performing scheduled, periodic inspections and maintenance on all equipment by a competent person.

The onus is on the workplace to develop and implement written safe work procedures which provide workers with adequate information about the hazards and risks related to the work and the control measures implemented. Read the manufacturer’s instructions before use, don’t overload the generator and switch it off when refuelling or not in use.

To avoid electrocution, keep the generator dry, do not use it in the rain and always dry your hands before touching it. If you are returning to a property that has been significantly damaged, it is important to first check wiring and other electrical installations before connecting and turning on any appliances.

Additionally, you should:

  • plug appliances directly into the generator via a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cord
  • use short extension leads that are in good condition and plugs that have all three prongs
  • fully unwind extension leads from reels or drums.

Further information

Carbon monoxide in breathing air during air compressor use

Using alternative fuel and electricity generation safely