One of the main dangers of working in confined spaces is exposure to carbon monoxide. Carbon-monoxide gas is odourless and colourless, and this makes it extremely difficult to detect. When carbon monoxide is inhaled, it prevents the body's red blood cells from transporting oxygen to the organs and tissues, and prolonged exposure to the gas can be fatal. In a well-ventilated environment, carbon monoxide is able to escape harmlessly into the air, but in confined spaces, the gas can quickly accumulate to dangerous levels. Therefore, if you're working underground in a team, it's really important that you know how to spot the signs of carbon monoxide.
Part of your confined-space training will include emergency first aid. In the meantime, here's a quick overview of how to recognise and treat carbon-monoxide poisoning.
Carbon-monoxide poisoning symptoms
Carbon-monoxide poisoning presents with many different signs. Look out for the following symptoms that could indicate gas poisoning:
- feelings of nausea
- becoming confused and/or aggressive
- difficulty in breathing
- loss of consciousness and lack of response to stimuli
- blue-grey skin colouration
- Notify your surface supervisor that there is a problem underground. Remember to tell them your precise location and give details of the casualty's condition. Your supervisor will call emergency services.
- Tell everyone you're working with that you think there is carbon monoxide present. Move your colleagues out of the affected area as quickly as possible.
- If possible, ventilate the area and shut off the source of any fumes or gases if it is safe to do so.
- Place any affected persons in a well-ventilated area and support them in a sitting position. If they are conscious, encourage them to breathe normally.
- If you have oxygen available, fit the mask to affected persons and encourage them to breathe normally.
- Stay with the people affected by the gas and reassure them until help arrives from the surface. While you are waiting, keep a note of the person's respiration rate and pulse. This information will be of great assistance to the emergency-services personnel and to the hospital when the casualty arrives.
- Be ready to brief your supervisor at the surface on the precise location of the incident and remember to make a detailed entry in your company's accident-log book.
Carbon-monoxide poisoning is a hazard when you are working in a confined space underground, and it can prove to be fatal if not identified and treated quickly. Make sure that you know what to look for and how to act if someone you're working with succumbs to carbon-monoxide poisoning; you might just save their life.