Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can be dangerous to human health if it is present in high concentrations or if exposure is prolonged. As a result, many industrial workplaces have strict regulations regarding carbon monoxide.
Forklifts run on liquid propane and are common in industrial warehouses and storage depots as they are more economical to operate than diesel-powered machines due to their lower fuel consumption. Hence, owners of propane forklifts and other heavy equipment must ensure their machines do not produce excessive carbon monoxide emissions as a result of their operation.
However, you may be wondering if a propane forklift produces carbon monoxide and whether your workplace safety officer will approve its use.
Read on to learn more about the presence of this gas and how you can reduce the chances of operating one that produces excessive levels of carbon monoxide..
Table of Contents
What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide, CO, is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause serious health issues, even death if it’s inhaled in high concentrations.
CO is created by a variety of industrial processes as well as by the burning of organic substances, including propane. CO is toxic to both humans and animals, and can quickly cause health problems if it is breathed in and exposed to high concentrations.
CO interferes with the blood’s ability to transport oxygen, which is necessary for survival. CO poisoning can be fatal if left untreated. CO poisoning symptoms include dizziness, headache, nausea, chest pain and confusion.
There are health concerns associated with CO exposure, including an increased risk of developing atherosclerosis, a disease that can cause heart attack and stroke.
Does a Propane Forklift Produce CO Gas?
All propane-powered equipment such as a forklift produces carbon monoxide. This gas is a by-product when propane is burned in the internal combustion engine. It has been observed that older forklifts – no matter what models, tend to produce more carbon monoxide compared to newer ones. An average of 5,000 PPM of CO is produced by newer models while older models are significantly higher at an average of 30,000 PPM.
Regular inspection, keeping the vehicle in tip-top shape, and inspection of the fuel system for any damage that could cause a leak, can considerably reduce exposure to CO gas. Installation of a catalytic converter can reduce the release of CO.
When working with a propane forklift, sufficient ventilation is important. Never use a diesel or gasoline-powered forklift indoors.
Forklift Safety Practices for Working with Propane
When operating a propane-powered lift truck, there are a few precautions you should take to protect employees from CO exposure. These include:
Using a CO detector at work, like an indoor CO monitor or a personal CO monitor. Indoor CO monitors can provide visual, audible and/or visual warnings when the CO level in the building is unsafe. They are usually placed near the entrance to the building to detect CO as people enter the building and can be useful in detecting CO leaks in the building.
Checking the safety of your forklift’s fuel system, including the fuel line and fuel tank, when you start work. This is best done with a visual inspection.
Stopping work if you suspect a CO leak. Emergency procedures should include stopping work when a CO leak is suspected, as immediate action is required to prevent CO exposure.
Checking the amount of CO being released at the end of the shift. If a CO leak is suspected, a full CO leak detection and repair procedure should be followed.
Allocating sufficient time for the safe shutdown of machinery, including the safe shutdown of forklift engines.
Ensuring that all employees are trained in the safe operation of forklifts, including the ways in which they produce CO.
Producing CO Doesn’t Mean the Forklift is Broken
In some instances, a forklift that is properly maintained may produce CO even when it’s not being used. This can happen if the forklift is left in a confined space without adequate ventilation. This can also happen if there is a leak in the fuel system that allows CO to build up.
In these instances, the CO is not coming from the burning of the propane; it is being produced by the propane itself. This is why visual and audible warnings, such as those provided by CO detectors, can be helpful.
They can prompt you to investigate the source of the CO and take corrective action to remove the CO from the confined space or repair the fuel system leak.
Safety Practices to Protect Employees From CO
There are a few ways to protect employees from CO in the engine compartment, including:
Using proper fuel – Always use fresh, clean and high-quality fuel. Using rotten or contaminated fuel can result in excess amounts of acids being produced in the engine compartment.
Checking the engine compartment – Perform visual inspections of the engine compartment on a regular basis. Look for signs of leaks, including pooling liquids, discoloration and abnormal noises, as well as any changes in the engine compartment.
Ensuring proper ventilation – Provide proper ventilation within the engine compartment. This may include exhaust fans, open doors, windows or other openings that allow fresh air to flow into the engine compartment.
How to reduce the chances of a propane forklift producing excessive CO?
There are a number of steps that must be taken to reduce the risk of a propane forklift producing high levels of carbon monoxide. These include:
- The forklift must be maintained and serviced according to manufacturer’s instructions. This will help ensure there are no faults in the machine that may result in excessive CO.
- The propane cylinder must be maintained according to the manufacturer’s instructions. – The forklift operator must be trained in safe operation of the machine.
- The workplace must be maintained according to the relevant standards, including those related to CO emissions.
Detecting Excessive CO in a Propane Forklift
Many workplaces have equipment that is designed to measure the level of carbon monoxide in the air.
This equipment, known as a CO monitor, can be used to monitor the level of this gas in the forklift operator’s breathing space. Additionally, the CO monitor will indicate the level of CO in the general vicinity of the forklift.
If the level of carbon monoxide is above the permissible level, the operator may be reluctant to operate the forklift, especially if the CO is concentrated around the operator’s seat. Employers should, therefore, install a CO monitor in areas where propane forklifts are operated, as well as any other areas where the CO level is close to or exceeds permissible limits.
These areas may include areas where propane cylinders are stored or filled, as well as areas where forklifts are refueled. CO monitors are relatively inexpensive, but they can help prevent carbon monoxide incidents, particularly in industrial settings where forklifts are operated regularly.
Reporting of Poisoning
Although it is an invisible gas, carbon monoxide poisoning is a medical emergency. Therefore, businesses must have procedures in place to report and record incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning.
For example, workers who suffer poisoning as a result of the presence of CO at work must be treated by a medical professional, with a record of the incident being kept.
This record must be kept, as many states have laws requiring such documentation to be maintained for a minimum period of time. Businesses must report all incidents of poisoning to state and federal safety officials.
This will help them determine if there is a widespread problem with emissions in the workplace. In order to ensure accurate reporting, businesses must ensure their workers are aware of the nature of CO poisoning and how to identify it.
Any workers who suspect they have been affected by carbon monoxide poisoning at work must report the incident.
Recognizing the Symptoms
If you suspect a colleague is suffering from poisoning, you should take them to see a doctor immediately.
• Headaches or feeling groggy or dizzy
• Nausea or vomiting – Shortness of breath
• Shallow, irregular breathing
• Chest pain
• Drowsiness or confusion
If a colleague is suffering from CO poisoning, they must be taken to a doctor as soon as possible. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal if left untreated, so it is important to be vigilant in searching for the signs of exposure.
The CO produced by an engine is often the sign of a healthy, but early, oxidation. While it’s true that CO can be dangerous, it can also serve as the first line of defense against rust and corrosion.
In fact, CO may be present in the engine compartment of a new forklift even before it is broken in! When in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution. If CO is present, it’s best to investigate its source and take prompt action to remedy the situation.
Mike is an experienced propane technician with over 15 years of professional experience in the field. He has dedicated his career to helping customers with their propane needs, from installation to maintenance and repair. Together with Jeremy, he co-founded this website to provide useful information and guidance to customers seeking reliable propane services.