Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention (SHARP) — Research for Safe Work

Carbon monoxide poisoning from forklifts - Bad for workers, bad for business

Washington State workers are poisoned by carbon monoxide (CO) every year, particularly during fall and winter. A review of workers' compensation claims showed that poisonings are predominantly caused by forklifts and occur most often in the following industries:

  • Wholesale Trade.
  • Agriculture.
  • Manufacturing.
  • Transportation.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is bad for workers and bad for business. It is cost effective to prevent these injuries because they can be severe or even fatal, can involve large numbers of workers in a single incident, and may result in production shut-downs. SHARP has identified practical strategies for employers to reduce their risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Routine, in-house forklift emissions testing is a good way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and makes good business sense. Reducing carbon monoxide emissions in a fleet of 10 propane-powered forklifts may save up to $7,500 in fuel costs per year on a single shift.

For additional information on how to conduct in-house forklift emissions testing, call the SHARP program at 1-888-667-4277.

New information about carbon monoxide

Worker information

To train your workers on the hazards of carbon monoxide from forklifts, SHARP developed educational materials in English and Spanish:

Employer information

For employers, SHARP developed the strategy guide: How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning from forklifts: Successful strategies for electric and fuel-driven forklift fleets (1,341 KB PDF / 4 min) (updated October 2009). The guide includes information on:

  • The economic impact of carbon monoxide poisonings (workers' compensation data).
  • Information on electric forklifts.
  • How to save fuel costs and control carbon monoxide from fuel-driven forklifts.
  • Carbon monoxide monitoring.
  • Employee training checklist.

L&I has additional information on sources of carbon monoxide in the workplace.

Risk for carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels. All combustion engines produce exhaust emissions that can contain harmful levels of carbon monoxide.

In Washington State, the most common source of carbon monoxide poisoning is fuel-driven forklifts. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is extremely high when fuel-driven forklifts are used inside enclosed spaces such as:

  • Cold rooms.
  • Controlled atmosphere rooms.
  • Refrigerated warehouses.
  • Other non-ventilated spaces.

Even when used indoors with mechanical ventilation, fuel-driven forklifts can still pose a risk because poisoning can occur at very low carbon monoxide concentrations.

Other common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Vehicles such as automobiles, trucks and buses.
  • Portable saws that burn fuel (i.e. concrete saws, chainsaws).
  • Generators.
  • Heaters and furnaces.
  • Power washers.
  • Insulation blowers.
  • Man lifts.
  • Compressors.
  • Ovens.
  • Floor buffers.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that you cannot smell, see or taste. The early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are flu-like and nonspecific such as:

  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Dizziness.
  • Visual disturbances.
  • Rapid breathing.

Severe carbon monoxide poisoning can result in unconsciousness and death.

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