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Construction Depot

Safety and health newsletter for the Oregon construction industry

December 15, 2015


Box trucks and internal-combustion engines can be deadly

Running an internal-combustion engine in a box truck can have deadly consequences unless the exhaust is properly vented. Even when the exhaust pipes are vented outside these trucks, carbon monoxide gas can endanger workers if the pipes are not positioned correctly. Oregon OSHA compliance officers have found that, in many of these cases, workers were unaware that they were exposed to carbon monoxide gas.

The most recent case involved gas-powered equipment in a box truck that workers were using to blow insulation into the attic of a house. The exhaust from the blower's engine was vented by a pipe that went through the wall of the truck and under the truck's frame. But the machine's air intake was too close to the exhaust vent and the exhaust was being sucked back into the system. The result? The workers in the attic were exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide.

The company's owner said that he knew the exhaust was harmful, but did not realize that it would be drawn in by the machine’s air intake. The company eliminated the hazard by changing the exhaust pipe and venting the exhaust above the truck.

truck exhaust illustration
The hazard: Air intake too close to the exhaust vent. (click image for full size)

exhaust solution
The fix: Exhaust vent repositioned above the truck. (click image for full size)

Although carbon monoxide's reputation as a silent killer is well known, it continues to find unsuspecting victims. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, poisonous gas produced by the incomplete burning of any material containing carbon – gasoline, natural gas, oil, propane, coal, or wood. It is harmful because it displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives the heart, brain, and other vital organs of oxygen. It is one of the leading causes of poisoning by inhalation and is a common workplace hazard.

Mild exposure to carbon monoxide can cause nausea, dizziness, or headache. Prolonged or high exposure may worsen symptoms and include vomiting, confusion, collapse, loss of consciousness, and muscle weakness. Symptoms vary from person to person. Severe exposure can result in permanent brain and heart damage or death. Heart and lung conditions, vascular disease, anemic conditions, barbiturate and alcohol use, and smoking increase susceptibility to carbon monoxide poisoning.

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning



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