“Knowing the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning is one way to protect yourself and your family or employees,” Field said. “Many types of farm vehicles and equipment are fueled by gas or oil and in the winter, some strategies used to keep warm can lead to unsafe levels of exposure.”
The most common source of accidental carbon monoxide exposure on farms is running tractors or other vehicles in shops or garages with the doors closed, which keeps the carbon monoxide in the exhaust fumes from escaping, said Field, professor of agricultural and biological engineering. Some older vehicles can leak exhaust backward into the passenger cab and gas- or oil-fueled equipment, such as high-pressure washers and heaters used in livestock buildings, can also pose a risk if used without sufficient ventilation.
Installing carbon monoxide monitors in enclosed work areas and checking them periodically is an important way to prevent or detect exposure before it reaches unsafe levels, Field said. The use of gas-powered equipment or vehicles should be prohibited in unvented or poorly ventilated spaces and exhaust systems should be regularly inspected to check for leaks.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas produced as a byproduct of burning carbon-containing fuels, such as propane, natural gas, wood or kerosene. When humans breathe in carbon monoxide, it interferes with the body’s ability to absorb oxygen, leading to symptoms that can quickly change from uncomfortable to deadly.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include headache, nausea or vomiting, weakness, dizziness, mental confusion, loss of muscle control, unconsciousness and eventually death. Severe poisoning can lead to permanent brain or heart damage that sometimes shows up weeks after other symptoms have improved.
If a farmer experiences symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning or if the carbon monoxide detector alarm sounds, he or she should immediately leave the building, get to fresh air and call 911, Field said.