QLD: safety warning issued over carbon monoxide generator use

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Monday, 28 February, 2022 - 12:00
Policy & legislation

With Queensland battered by heavy rains and floods recently, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland issued a safety warning that cleaning up after storms comes with a range of risks to health and safety.

The safety warning came following an incident in which a man was overcome by carbon monoxide and died while laying carpet in a store, which was poorly ventilated, in Toowoomba.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas emitted by operating petrol and, to a lesser extent, diesel-powered engines. Because CO is colourless, tasteless and odourless, it has the potential to go undetected. When CO is breathed in, it prevents the blood from carrying oxygen to cells, tissues and organs.

Generators are handy in flood clean-ups, but they must be used in a safe way.

The regulator said atmospheres in enclosed spaces should be monitored using a suitable air monitoring device (e.g. gas detector) where plant and equipment exhaust is generated.

Exhaust gases should also be ventilated to prevent the build-up of contaminant exhaust gases, including CO.

This risk can be reduced by operating generators and other fuel-powered equipment outdoors wherever possible and establishing and maintaining a comprehensive respiratory protection program, as well as performing scheduled, periodic inspections and maintenance on all equipment by a competent person.

The regulator said the onus is on the workplace to develop and implement written safe work procedures which provide workers with adequate information about the hazards and risks related to the work and the control measures implemented.

Read the manufacturer’s instructions before use, don’t overload the generator and switch it off when refuelling or not in use.

To avoid electrocution, keep the generator dry, do not use it in the rain and always dry your hands before touching it. If you are returning to a property that has been significantly damaged, it is important to first check wiring and other electrical installations before connecting and turning on any appliances.