Protect Residents from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Site owners and managers beware: This is the time of year when accidental carbon monoxide poisonings peak. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that's produced when fuel is incompletely burned. In the winter months, faulty furnaces and fuel-burning appliances, and snow-covered or blocked furnace vents, chimneys, flues, and air intakes are top contributors to carbon monoxide poisonings.
In the past couple of years, at least 25 states have passed laws that require carbon monoxide detectors in rental units, and many more are expected to follow suit in the next few years. Carbon monoxide detectors are relatively inexpensive (most cost less than $100) and can provide a critical early warning to residents before the deadly gas builds up to a dangerous level, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
However, the first line of defense for site managers should be to ensure that all fuel-burning appliances are operating properly. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests sites have fuel-burning appliances—including oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, and fireplaces—inspected by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season. Make sure that the flues and chimneys are connected, are in good condition, and are not blocked.
Resident education is also key to preventing accidents. The EPA offers downloadable brochures and fact sheets that you can post and make available for residents in site newsletters and bulletins. The following are a few important carbon monoxide safety tips to share with your residents:
- Don't use a gas oven or clothes dryer to heat your unit, even for a short time.
- Don't burn charcoal indoors—even in a fireplace.
- Don't sleep in a room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
- Don't ignore carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms, which include, at moderate levels, severe headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, or fainting. Low levels of carbon monoxide poisoning can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches, and may have longer-term effects on your health. Because the symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, it's often misdiagnosed.
- If you experience symptoms that might be from carbon monoxide poisoning, get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows, turn off combustion appliances, and leave the unit. Go to an emergency room and tell the physician that you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.