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Hard-Floor Maintenance Equipment Safety: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

June 5, 2007
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The power of propane-fed floor maintenance equipment is awesome. Its presence in the market has been felt since the late ‘70s, and the impact it has had is phenomenal, especially in the retail and grocery environments.

The amount of time and labor saved is incredible. Technician fatigue is reduced and the end results are nothing short of spectacular. These machines give us the ability to reduce gigantic floor maintenance challenges into manageable floor maintenance solutions. They empower us to convert massive amounts of dull lifeless flooring into glistening lakes of reflection. Yes, they are effective and efficient, but they can also be dangerous and one of the biggest dangers of all is carbon monoxide poisoning.

The internal combustion engine is the power that drives this impressive equipment, and the fuel source is propane low-pressure gas. As is the case with all internal combustion engines, a by-product of their power is the emissions generated in the form of carbon monoxide (CO). This colorless, odorless, toxic gas is formed when carbon-based fuels are burned with insufficient air, which prevents the gas from completing oxidation into carbon dioxide (CO2). A build-up of CO can occur, particularly in confined areas and create an unsafe environment that could lead to CO poisoning. This is the reason all propane equipment should be regularly maintained by a trained qualified technician.

There are millions of square feet of vinyl composition tile in various environments maintained daily with propane-powered buffers and stripping machines. Technicians who operate propane-powered equipment or anyone who is around areas where it is frequently used should be aware of what CO poisoning is and what the symptoms of being overcome are. Understanding the danger and recognizing the early symptoms will help to reduce or eliminate over exposure.

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs because our red blood cells absorb CO quicker than oxygen. When there is a high accumulation of carbon monoxide in the environment the body may replace the oxygen in the blood with the carbon monoxide. As the CO builds up it blocks more oxygen from getting into the body. Over exposure can result in loss of consciousness and even death.

Symptoms of CO poisoning vary depending on the amount of CO in the air and the time of exposure. Low-level exposure may become apparent as shortness of breath, slight headache and a little nausea. These conditions may occur slowly over a period of two or three hours. At moderate levels of exposure the symptoms will be moderate to severe headaches, vomiting and drowsiness within one or two hours.

Higher levels of CO will result in severe headaches, dizziness, weakness, disorientation, vomiting, fainting, and unconsciousness within a short period of time, 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours. One of the biggest problems is CO poisoning has symptoms similar to those associated the flu or food poisoning, so often times it is just dismissed as “not feeling well.”

Technicians with low-level CO poisoning recover quickly when moved into fresh air. Moderate poisoning may take a couple to several hours before the technician starts feeling better. Most victims of severe exposure are not able to move themselves; severe poisoning may result in death.

CO poisoning is a very real threat and one that can be avoided. There are things that the technician can do to reduce the potential of becoming a victim of overexposure. When shopping for propane equipment, purchase from a reputable manufacturer. Most propane equipment is monitored very closely to meet Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board. Have your equipment maintained regularly by qualified and certified maintenance technicians.

When using propane-powered equipment, make sure you are using it in an environment conducive to its use. Do not use propane equipment in tight, confined areas.

Ventilation is very important. Be sure you have adequate air movement throughout the facility. Monitor yourself, if you are not feeling well, getting a little dizzy or developing a headache, stop immediately and get to fresh air.

Yes, propane-powered equipment is a timesaver for the floor maintenance professional, and the equipment is not going to go away. It is up to the technician to make sure that they understand the potential problems that may occur, especially when it comes to CO poisoning. Making sure your equipment is running properly will reduce the risk for you, your employees and your customers.

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