Safer Times: The Good Day's Work Blog

Dangers of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Agriculture

Posted by Marty Huseman on Nov 16, 2017
Find me on:

Have you ever installed carbon monoxide detectors in your farm buildings?  If you haven’t, this may change your mind. A carbon monoxide detector or CO monitor is a devise that detects the presence of carbon monoxide (CO) gas to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. CO is a colorless, tasteless and odorless compound produced by incomplete combustion of carbon-containing materials. It is sometimes referred to as the “silent killer” because it is virtually undetectable without using a detection devise. 

Shop with Equipment 1.jpg



 Purdue Extension safety specialist Bill Field says

 “As winter temperatures fall, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning may go up on farms if equipment and vehicles are run with improper ventilation.” 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. 


Bill Field.jpg

Field goes on to say “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.” 


Carbon monoxide is gas produced as a byproduct of burning carbon-containing fuels, such as propane, natural gas, wood or kerosene. Here are other sources that produce CO on a farm operation:

  • Cars, trucks, tractors, ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles and other gas or diesel equipment
  • Small engines like; lawnmowers, chainsaws, weed-eaters, generators
  • Gas and oil furnaces, boilers and water heaters
  • Gas, oil and kerosene space heaters

When humans breathe in carbon monoxide, it interferes with the body’s ability to absorb oxygen. What makes it dangerous is that when you breathe it, it replaces oxygen in your blood. Without oxygen, cells throughout the body die, and the organs quit working.


 Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Renee Anthony, director of the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health says “The initial symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure will make you feel like you’re getting the flu. You’ll get a little tired, a little headache, maybe a little lightheaded. As it progresses, as the concentration maybe increases, and your level of carbon monoxide increases in your hemoglobin, then you can start really feeling dizzy. It may cause some feelings of nausea, and at some point, it may impair your ability to think straight."   At low levels you might not even think about CO as a reason why you don’t feel well. However, you might feel better when you leave the building and worse as you when you return.  Or, other people you work with have the same symptoms as you. A CO detector will help remove all doubt.


 What are the long-term health risks of carbon monoxide poisoning?first-alert-co-fa-9b-carbon-monoxide-alarm.jpg

At very high concentrations, carbon monoxide kills in less than five minutes. At low concentrations, carbon monoxide may take years to affect the body. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety limit is 50 parts per million (ppm). Carbon monoxide detectors are required to sound an alarm when concentrations are greater than 100 ppm. The time of exposure, the concentration of CO, the activity level of the person breathing the CO, and the person’s age, sex, and general health all affect the danger level. For instance, a concentration of 800 ppm will cause headaches after one hour, but can lead to unconsciousness and death in 2 to 3 hours. Strong physical exertion, with an accompanying increase in the respiration rate, shortens the time to critical levels by 2 or 3 fold.


 What To Do

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.  Do not drive yourself to the doctor.


 How is carbon monoxide poisoning diagnosed?

A doctor will take a blood sample to determine the amount of CO in the blood.  Once CO levels increase to 70 parts per million (ppm) and above, symptoms become more noticeable.


 How is carbon monoxide poisoning treated?

The best way to treat CO poisoning is to breathe in pure oxygen.  This treatment increases oxygen levels in the blood and helps remove CO from the blood. Your doctor will place an oxygen mask over your nose and mouth and ask you to inhale.  If you’re unable to breathe on your own, you’ll receive oxygen through a ventilator.


 In summary

Breathing in carbon monoxide can be very damaging to your health, short and long term.  Since CO is difficult to detect, it is recommended to install CO monitors with audible alarms or carry a personal CO monitor. Many people have CO detectors installed in their homes but haven’t considered installing one where they work and are at risk of CO. Many things affect our health around ag operations. Like hearing, we don’t always recognize the damage of health hazards until years later.  Test if you suspect CO could be a potential problem and keep yourself and your employees safe.


 Good Day's Work - Hazard Communications Course

OSHA Fact Sheet Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

OSHA Quick Card Carbon Monoxide

New Call-to-action

Topics: carbon monoxide

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all

Follow Me