What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a highly poisonous gas which can be produced if an appliance is not working correctly, i.e. full combustion of the gas does not take place. It's a serious danger and can be fatal, but is often less familiar than the obvious hazards such as fire. Carbon Monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of the fossil fuels – gas, oil, coal and wood used in boilers, engines, oil burners, gas fires, water heaters, solid fuel appliances and open fires. Portable barbeques are a common example. Consider that the use of such equipment could be around tents, caravans, boats, Scout buildings, mountain huts etc. Scouting activity occurs in such a wide variety of venues and locations. It's difficult to recognise as it has no colour, smell or taste. This means you can inhale it without realising Symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to that of a viral infection. It affects the mental ability causing a person to become incapable without knowing.
Raising awareness of carbon monoxide to adults and young people alike during their various learning experiences is an important control factor.
Symptoms of Exposure to Carbon Monoxide
- Tightness across the forehead and confusion
- Stomach pain
- Severe headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting
- Coma, intermittent convulsions
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be similar to those of food poisoning and the flu. However, unlike flu, carbon monoxide poisoning does not cause a high temperature (fever). If the exposure has been severe it may cause death.
How can I manage the risks?
DO – cook or use appliances in a properly ventilated area. If you need a sheltered cooking area, consider a gazebo or a tent porch with sufficient air circulation and ventilation.
DON’T – cook in small poorly ventilated spaces or areas where people sleep.
DO - regularly check and clean your equipment and arrange for proper maintenance in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
DON’T – leave known faulty equipment to chance. Get it serviced or dispose of it.
DO - consider the use of a Carbon Monoxide alarm to help detect its presence BUT, in the same way as you would position a fire extinguisher, fire blanket or smoke detector in the kitchen…as an extra precaution.
DON’T – forget to brief people about what to do if they hear the CO alarm go off. Be cautious and always assume it is a real emergency.
DO - stay warm by making sure you layer your clothing, and pick up a warmer sleeping bag.
DON’T - use gas stoves/fuel burners/lamps/patio or camping heaters to heat your tent when cold. All gas powered items need plenty of ventilation to prevent producing carbon monoxide.
When considering where to place a carbon monoxide detector, keep in mind that although carbon monoxide is roughly the same weight as air (carbon monoxide’s specific gravity is 0.9657, as stated by the EPA; the National Resource Council lists the specific gravity of air as one), it may be contained in warm air coming from combustion appliances such as home heating equipment. If this is the case, carbon monoxide will rise with the warmer air.
Safety information and technical drawings kindly reproduced with permission from bullfinch gas and GoOutdoors.