Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous, colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. Although it has no detectable odor, CO is often mixed with other gases that do have an odor. You can inhale carbon monoxide along with gases that you can smell and not know that CO is present.
CO is a common industrial hazard resulting from the incomplete burning of material containing carbon such as natural gas, gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal or wood. Forges, blast furnaces and coke ovens produce CO, but one of the most common sources of exposure in the workplace is the internal combustion engine.
OSHA urges employers to take necessary precautions to protect workers from the potentially fatal effects of carbon monoxide exposure. Every year, workers die from carbon monoxide poisoning, usually while using fuel-burning equipment, tools, compressors and pumps, gas-powered forklifts, and other devices in buildings or semi-enclosed spaces without adequate ventilation.
To reduce the risk of exposure, employers should install an effective ventilation system, use carbon monoxide detectors and take other precautions as described in OSHA’s Carbon Monoxide Fact Sheet. Other OSHA resources include videos (in English and Spanish), QuickCards (in English and Spanish), and a fact sheet on portable generator safety.