EASTLAKE, Colo. - An unfortunate argument used regarding carbon monoxide (CO) testing is that "it's not my job." From HVAC service technicians to emergency personnel, some employees may be reluctant to put themselves on the line and measure CO levels. However, "Personal safety is every service provider's job," according to the Carbon Monoxide Safety Association (COSA).

The new association's goal is to raise CO awareness at all levels of the building community, including occupants and servicers, and to provide training, information, and additional tools to provide safe work and home environments, the association said.

Measuring CO levels is not just intended for the safety of building occupants, the association points out. It's also for the safety of the service people working in them, such as HVAC technicians.

"The mission of COSA," the group stated, "is to promote carbon monoxide safety awareness and to develop and implement CO training materials and programs for field professionals in fire departments, emergency medical services, building inspection, and gas- and oil-fired appliance installation and service." The association was founded by The ESCO Institute, Mount Prospect, Ill.

CO Questions

"Do the buildings you walk into everyday have elevated levels of carbon monoxide in the living or work space air?" COSA asks on its Web site. "Do you move through these buildings focused on your task at hand, unaware of the potential consequences of exposure to carbon monoxide?"

The group poses additional questions on its Web site (www.cosafety.org):

  • How much CO is too much?

  • How it is measured?

  • What is the workplace law for CO?

  • Is the building safe?

  • Who else is in the building and are they safe?

  • At what levels am I affected by health maladies like headache, weakness, sinus irritation, reduced dexterity, vision, and mental/motor impairment?

  • When is it appropriate for field professionals to wear protective breathing apparatus?

  • Why should mechanical systems professionals, building inspectors, or anyone else measure CO in a building?

  • At what levels do you vacate a building?

  • At what levels do you notify police, fire, gas utilities, and inspectors, and whom do you call first?

  • Do insurance companies or attorneys advise testing for CO?

  • Are there financial benefits in being a certified CO tester?

    How Much Is Too Much?

    "Although there is no nationally accepted standard for hazardous CO levels," COSA points out, "various organizations have set their own concentration hazard levels." These groups include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

    Moreover, "Pregnant women, infants, children, senior citizens, persons with heart or respiratory problems, and smokers may experience symptoms at lower levels of exposure than the safe levels established by these organizations," COSA cautioned.

    The new association contends that every home and building should have a CO detector that meets the needs of all of its inhabitants. "Individuals with medical problems should use warning devices that provide audible and visual signals for CO concentrations under 30 ppm."

    COSA recommends measuring outdoor CO levels before entering a building to determine if those levels are too high. Building pressurization diagnostics may also help prevent generation and dispersion of CO, the group said.

    "Technicians using proper electrochemical-based test instruments can measure operating exhausts of systems and reduce hazards by correcting the problem immediately," the association said. "An understanding of the dynamics of carbon monoxide and how much is too much is one of the focus points of COSA."

    Training And Certification

    The association has already started holding certification and training events, such as the March 1-3 "Carbon Monoxide and Combustion Analysis Technician Certification" session held at the LA Tech Shreveport-Bossier Campus, Shreveport, La., co-sponsored by COSA and Bacharach Inc.

    Certification courses covered signs, symptoms, and health effects of minor and major exposure poisoning; test instrument calibration and use; types of CO alarms; code compliance; proactive practices; combustion system testing and CO investigations in ambient air; principles of combustible gas systems; and controlling fuel through combustion via primary, secondary, excess, and dilution air.

    HVAC-specific training includes "the efficiency of combustion systems with reference to time, temperature, and turbulence"; "draft measurements for safety and efficiency"; "savings potential without compromising safety"; "pressure measurements for buildings with combustion appliances and heating equipment"; "worst-case depressurization"; and "maximizing manometer measurements."

    The training is intended for HVAC technicians, health technicians, fire departments, home inspectors, emergency responders, police, insurance reps, and attorneys, the association said. Two days of training are followed by a written exam given on the third morning.

    For more information on the association and its training/certification programs, visit www.cosafety.org or call 800-394-5253.

    Publication date: 04/11/2005