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Article Archive >> Community

Winter Weather Prompts Increase in Life-threatening Risks

Winter Weather Prompts Increase in Life-threatening Risks

Hundreds of people die from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning each year and it remains a serious threat no matter the season, but activities that typically increase with the onset of winter weather conditions pose an even greater risk. Recent tragic events throughout the country have served as sad reminders that carbon monoxide poisoning can result in death when it reaches unsafe levels. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) urges the public to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide and to take measures to ensure safe practices.
Many deaths caused by carbon monoxide poisoning could have been prevented by installing carbon monoxide alarms in the home to alert residents of its lethal levels before it is too late.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that enters the body undetected as a person breathes. Burning wood, coal, charcoal, natural gas, gasoline, propane, oil, methane, and other common fuels produces the gas. Automobiles and other gasoline or diesel engines also produce it.
When power outages occur, people naturally look for other ways to see and keep warm. As they look for alternatives for electricity and home heating, they should be aware that the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is sometimes elevated with supplemental equipment that is often used.
"Portable generators are often used to meet electricity and heating needs in emergency situations. Homeowners are sometimes unaware of the risks associated with them like electric shock, electrocution and the most common risk, carbon monoxide poisoning," said Mark W. Earley, P.E., assistant vice president/chief electrical engineer. "Risks associated with portable generators and many alternative sources for electricity and heat are minimized when owners are educated about the potential dangers and equipment is used properly."
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning and other illnesses. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, light-headedness or headaches.
For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning, view Fact Sheets on NFPA's Web site at http://www.nfpa.org under Research and Reports. NFPA suggests the following safety tips to avoid the dangers of carbon monoxide.
* Install carbon monoxide (CO) alarms (listed by an independent testing laboratory) inside your home to provide early warning of accumulating CO. CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each separate sleeping area. If bedrooms are spaced apart, each area will need a CO alarm.
* Test CO alarms at least once a month and replace alarms according to the manufacturer's instructions.
* CO alarms are not substitutes for smoke alarms. Know the difference between the sound of smoke alarms and CO alarms.
* Have fuel-burning heating equipment (fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, wood and coal stoves, space or portable heaters) and chimneys inspected by a professional every year before cold weather sets in.
* When using a fireplace, open the flue for adequate ventilation.
* Never use your oven or grill to heat your home.
* When buying an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the integrity of the heating and cooking systems, as well as the sealed spaces between the garage and house.
* If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle, generator, or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
* During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
NFPA recommends the following tips for proper use of portable generators.
* Generators should be operated in well ventilated locations outdoors away from all doors, windows and vent openings.
* The generator should be located so that exhaust fumes cannot enter the home through windows, doors or other building openings.
* Do not refuel the generator while it is running. Turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling.
* Never store fuel for your generator in your home. Gasoline and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in properly labeled safety containers. They should be stored away from any fuel-burning appliance such as a gas hot water heater.
* Plug appliances directly into the generator or use a heavy-duty outdoor-rated extension cord. Make sure the cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin. Do not try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet.
* If you must connect the generator to the house wiring to power appliances, have a qualified electrician install a properly rated transfer switch in accordance with the NEC and all applicable state and local electrical codes.
NFPA has been a worldwide leader in providing fire, electrical, building, and life safety to the public since 1896. The mission of the international nonprofit organization is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education.

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