Share Safety Tips Regarding CO Poisoning with Site Residents
Along with the colder weather comes the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CO is a colorless, odorless gas that’s the second most common cause of non-medicinal poisoning death. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), over 10,000 people are poisoned by CO and need medical treatment each year, and more than 438 people in the U.S. die annually from CO poisoning.
While CO poisoning is usually caused by faulty heating systems, it can also be caused by things that residents bring into their apartments, such as kerosene heaters and charcoal grills. Especially during power outages caused by natural disaster events such as hurricanes, residents may bring portable generators and camp stoves into their homes. And these can emit enough CO to cause severe injury and death when they’re used indoors or on porches where there isn’t enough ventilation.
You can help reduce the risk of CO poisoning at your site by warning residents of the effects that CO can have on their health, telling them the symptoms of CO poisoning, and giving them tips for preventing a dangerous buildup of CO in their unit. We’ll give you a Model Memo: Inform Residents of Risks Associated with Carbon Monoxide, that you can adapt and give to residents.
A resident who has been injured by CO poisoning may be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the site owner in some instances. Whether the owner is liable will depend on standard landlord-tenant law and/or state laws regulating CO devices.
If the resident’s CO exposure is caused by the site’s failure to maintain or repair a furnace, pipe, or other device in an area over which the owner has control such as the basement, then the owner’s liability to the resident is clear. If the owner agreed, either in the lease or through some other promise, to repair a stove, pipe, or other device in the resident’s unit, but did so in a negligent manner, causing the resident to be exposed to harmful levels of CO, the owner’s liability is pretty clear. The same is true if a regulation or ordinance requires the owner to inspect and/or repair devices or appliances that might expose a resident to CO, and the owner fails to do so.
Owner liability is less clear when the CO exposure is a result of a malfunction in an appliance or device in the resident’s unit, and the appliance wasn’t defective when the tenancy began. If no ordinance or regulation was violated and the tenant didn’t know about or inform the owner of the malfunction, the owner may not be found liable. For example, if the owner properly inspected a gas stove before renting out the unit, and the resident unknowingly damages the stove, the owner won’t be held liable if the damaged stove is the source of the CO exposure.
In some cases, a tenant may knowingly alter a stove or appliance or bring in CO-emitting devices to increase heat and, as a result, become exposed to CO injuries. In that case, the owner is likely to win the lawsuit. But it’s best to educate residents on preventing CO poisoning to avoid losing a life.
In one case, an Illinois resident died of CO poisoning when she covered the vents in her stove and left the stove on to heat her apartment. The resident’s family sued the owner for failing to warn the resident of the dangers of using the stove in this manner. The owner argued that it didn’t have a duty to warn the resident not to misuse her appliances.
An appeals court ruled that the owner wasn’t liable for the resident’s misuse of her stove. The court explained that owners generally aren’t liable for hazards that are out of their control, such as a resident’s misuse of an appliance. And since the owner wasn’t liable for the resident’s misuse of the stove, the owner didn’t have a duty to warn her about the dangers of misusing the stove [Engram v. Chicago Housing Auth.].
Give Residents Memo About CO Safety
One of the best ways to keep your residents safe from CO is to educate them about it. To do this, give them a memo, like our Model Memo, which explains the following:
CO and its effects on health. Explain that CO is released whenever carbon-based substances, such as natural gas or charcoal, are burned. Say that CO can build up to dangerous levels if there’s no air vent or open window for it to escape. And explain that the reason CO is so dangerous is that the body’s red blood cells absorb CO faster than they absorb oxygen, allowing CO to replace the oxygen in the bloodstream—and basically suffocate tissues and organs.
Common symptoms of CO poisoning. List the common symptoms of CO poisoning, which include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness. Say that in severe cases, CO poisoning can lead to disorientation, unconsciousness, or death. And say that if residents feel some of these symptoms while inside their unit, but feel better when they’ve been out of their unit for several hours, they should search for a source of CO as a potential cause.
Tips for preventing buildup of CO in units. Give residents the following seven tips for preventing a dangerous buildup of CO in their unit:
Tip #1: Make sure flue in fireplace is open. If the flue in a fireplace—that is, the mechanism in a fireplace that lets the air and smoke out—isn’t open while a fire is burning, the fire won’t be able to ventilate properly, which can cause a dangerous buildup of CO. If your units have fireplaces, tell residents to make sure the flue is open before they start a fire in their fireplace.
Tip #2: Never use gas range or oven to heat unit. Using a gas range or oven to heat a unit can also cause a dangerous buildup of CO. So tell residents never to use their gas range or oven to heat their unit.
Tip #3: Never use charcoal or gas grill indoors. Surprisingly, when the summer is over, some residents cook on their grills inside their unit. But cooking on a grill indoors can also cause a dangerous buildup of CO. So tell residents never to use charcoal or gas grills inside.
Tip #4: Don’t use portable heaters indoors. Kerosene and gas space heaters are extremely dangerous CO hazards. They’re also a fire hazard and illegal in many cities. So warn residents not to use kerosene or gas space heaters to heat their units. Also warn residents not to use flameless chemical heaters. Even though these heaters don’t have a flame, they burn gas and can cause a buildup of CO.
Tip #5: Don’t use gas camp stoves indoors. Residents may use gas camp stoves to heat their units, particularly if there’s a power outage. But using gas camp stoves indoors can also cause a dangerous buildup of CO. So warn residents not to use gas camp stoves indoors.
Tip #6: Don’t leave car idling in closed garage. If your units have garages, warn residents not to leave their cars idling with the garage door closed. Explain that if they do, the garage can quickly fill up with CO and overcome them.
Tip #7: Don’t block airflow around windows and doors. Residents sometimes cover their windows with plastic sheeting and place rugs or towels in spaces under doors to avoid winter drafts or save money on heating. But doing so blocks fresh oxygen from entering the unit and prevents any CO in the unit from escaping, which could lead to a dangerous buildup of CO, even if gas heating is working correctly. So warn residents not to cover their windows with plastic sheeting or place rugs or towels under their doors.
Installing CO Detectors
Several states and cities have passed laws requiring owners of residential buildings to install CO detectors. A CO detector measures the concentration of CO in the air. Most CO detectors will sound an alarm when even low levels of CO are detected in the air.
Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia require CO detectors in private dwellings via state statute. Another 11 states require CO detectors in private dwellings through the regulatory adoption of the International Residential Code or via an amendment to their state’s building code.
Even if your state or locality doesn’t require the installation of CO detectors, consider installing them as an added safety measure. But not every building needs CO detectors. For example, buildings that have electric heating and hot water systems and appliances are unlikely to have problems with CO. Such buildings probably don’t need CO detectors inside resident’s unit and may, in fact, be exempt from a lot of state or local CO laws. Of course, there’s always the chance that a resident may bring a gas burning appliance into his unit, which is why educating residents about CO is so important.
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|Inform Residents of Carbon Monoxide Risks|