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How do you give first aid for toxic gas inhalation?

If you and your co-workers handle toxic gases or chemicals, you're at significant risk of inhaling the fumes -- which can lead to permanent injuries and even death.

Knowing how to administer first aid to a co-worker that's been exposed to the chemical vapors while medical help is on the way is important. It could be the only thing that saves a life.

What happens when toxic fumes are inhaled?

Someone who breathes in toxic fumes in an enclosed or poorly ventilated area may be overcome -- even faint. Continuing to breath the harmful vapors prevents oxygen from getting into the bloodstream. Once the brain is deprived of oxygen, brain damage is only minutes away. Heart failure is next, after the heart can no longer do its job. Essentially, the person suffocates on the vapors.

How do you treat someone who is overcome by fumes?

First, get the injured worker out of the area. If that isn't possible, immediately try to ventilate the room -- otherwise, you could end up injured also. Limiting the amount of ongoing exposure to the fumes is critical.

Call 911. If possible, tell the operator what chemicals or fumes the victim has inhaled. Emergency responders can use that information to plan their rescue efforts and treatments.

Then, if your co-worker isn't breathing, check for any obstructions in his or her mouth or throat. Begin chest compressions and ordinary CPR techniques if you know how. If not, ask the 911 operator for instructions. Operators can often walk you through the process.

If your co-worker is breathing, help him or her to a sitting position, tilting slightly forward, elbows on knees. This is the best recovery position for breathing problems because it relaxes the chest and airways.

If there isn't any risk of explosions or fire from the use of oxygen and your company has emergency oxygen containers available, use the oxygen to supplement the victim's breathing.

Again, the most important thing here is to limit exposure to the fumes -- whatever their source -- and get your co-worker breathing again. The long-term effects of toxic exposure can be mitigated with quick responses.

Source:, "First Aid for Gas Inhalation," accessed April 26, 2018

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