Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.
There have been several recent reports of cases of worker exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide associated with the use of propane-powered floor burnishers. These particular incidents occurred in retail stores, but burnishers are used in a wide variety of workplaces.
In one instance, two workers were each operating a propane-powered floor burnisher in a retail store in Ontario. One worker lost consciousness due to carbon monoxide poisoning. In a separate incident, 10 workers -- including one worker who became unconscious -- were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after a propane-powered burnisher had been used in their store. The workers had been exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide emitted from the burnishers. Ventilation in both workplaces was found to be inadequate to protect the workers' health.
In other cases, workers have contacted the Ministry of Labour complaining of headaches and dizziness after exposure to carbon monoxide related to the use of propane-powered burnishers. In the United States, two employees of a pharmacy fainted within four hours of arriving for work due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The floors had been burnished prior to the start of their shift.
Propane-powered burnishers are commonly used to polish vinyl and terrazzo floors. These floors are typically found in many provincially regulated workplaces.
Propane-powered floor burnishers are usually used by cleaning contractors outside normal business hours, and may therefore escape the attention of workplace inspections by the Joint Health and Safety Committee or Health and Safety Representative at the workplace where the burnishers are being used.
Most problems occur due to inadequate equipment maintenance, inadequate ventilation, and workers not being provided with the necessary information on hazards associated with the use of propane-powered floor burnishers.
Carbon monoxide is often called "the silent killer" because it gives no clear warning to its victims. It is an invisible gas with no taste or smell. Symptoms of exposure to carbon monoxide may include headache, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and dizziness.
Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are often ignored or associated with minor illnesses such as the flu. Continued exposure can cause confusion, loss of consciousness and even death.
Workers who can be affected by carbon monoxide are the floor burnisher operators and others who are in the vicinity during and after use. Carbon monoxide can accumulate quickly in enclosed work areas or poorly ventilated areas, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide, or CO, interferes with the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. Exposure to this toxic gas at high concentrations (more than 1,200 parts per million, or ppm) is considered to be immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH)[ 1 ]. CO does not have a STEL (Short Term Exposure Limits) or Ceiling, only a TWA (Time Weighted Average) and excursions. Propane-powered burnishers can emit carbon monoxide levels well in excess of 2 per cent or 20,000 ppm. Carbon monoxide can rapidly accumulate in a workplace without adequate dilution ventilation.
If possible, electric-powered or battery-powered burnishers should be used in place of propane-powered burnishers.
If propane–powered burnishers are used:
OELs restrict the level and duration of worker exposure to hazardous biological or chemical agents, including carbon monoxide. They are prescribed in Regulation 833, Regulation Respecting Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). The OELs for carbon monoxide are:
Every employer shall take all measures reasonably necessary in the circumstances to protect workers from exposure to a hazardous biological or chemical agent because of the storage, handling, processing or use of such agent in the workplace [subsection 3(1)].
The measures to be taken shall include the provision and use of:
Without limiting the generality of section 3, every employer shall take the measures required by that section to limit the exposure of workers to a hazardous biological or chemical agent to the limits set out in subsection 3(4) of the Regulation.
Employers who contract for floor work are reminded that they also have responsibilities under the OHSA to protect their workers. These employers may wish to ensure that safety issues are appropriately addressed in any contract they enter in which floor burnishing will be a service provided.
The employer shall:
The supervisor shall:
A worker shall:
The 2014 changes to the Ontario Fire Code requiring CO detectors in certain locations is enforced by local fire departments under the authority of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997.
The Technical Standards and Safety Authority
Safety Advisory – Carbon Monoxide: Beware the Silent Killer [ 31.45 Kb / 1 page ]
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – What You Should Know [ 32.17 Kb / 1 page ]
Workplace Safety and Prevention Services
Or contact the Ministry of Labour Health & Safety Contact Centre at 1-877-202-0008.
[ 1 ] The U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) immediately dangerous to life and health concentration (IDLH) for CO is 1,200 ppm.The IDLH value is established to allow a worker the ability to escape without loss of life or immediate or delayed irreversible health effects. Thirty minutes is considered the maximum time for escape and the prevention of severe eye or respiratory irritation or other reactions that would hinder escape.
Remember that while complying with occupational health and safety laws, you are also required to comply with applicable environmental laws.
Permission is granted to photocopy Ministry of Labour alerts. Please distribute them widely and post them where people will see them.
ISSN 1195-5228 (HTML)