After reading about a recent situation where children and staff were sickened at a local, Allentown day-care center by CO poisoning, I thought it might be a good time to write about some of the hazards that are more prevalent in the winter months and ways you can keep your families and employees safe.
The CO Poisoning at the daycare was due to a carbon monoxide leak caused by a malfunctioning heating system and blocked ventilation. The city of Allentown responded by posting on Facebook, “Every winter the Allentown Fire Department responds to an increase in number of carbon monoxide calls,” the post said. “Gas- and oil-burning furnaces produce CO and can become a silent killer. CO is an invisible, odorless, poison gas that kills hundreds every year and makes thousands more sick. Those who have oil and gas furnaces should have their furnaces inspected every year. CO detectors should be checked regularly to make sure they are functioning properly.”
Below are some issues that arise more in the winter months and what you can do to keep your home or business safe.
- Heating Pipes are Blocked – Heating systems require oxygen for combustion and need to vent combustible materials to the outside. When high amounts of snow block these pipes, it can make your heating system shut off, or worse, hazardous combustible materials including carbon monoxide (CO) can be forced back into the home. CO is odorless and colorless, and can be very harmful to both people and animals. To remedy this, make sure clear snow from both the intake and exhaust vents of your home. This includes Gas fireplaces, too. You can also install a vent screen for your exhaust pipe. This will keep unwanted animals out to avoid a potential blockage. Also make sure you have installed CO detectors and they are in good working order.
- Faulty or Broken Heating System – Heating Systems that use Oil, Gas and other accelerants cause thousands of injuries, fires and deaths each year that could be avoided. Just like other mechanical systems, when parts break, they don’t perform as expected. From faulty thermocouplers to cracked heat exchangers to holes in gas or oil lines to long time build up of combustible dirt and debris, there are a number of hazards that could cause injury from your heating system. To remedy this, your best bet is to have your heating and cooling system inspected and cleaned at least twice a year (once in Spring for AC and once in Autumn for Heat).
- Electrical Issues – Winter is a time in which house fires are more common. Often these fires are caused by electrical malfunctions that could be fixed by a licensed electrician. Some helpful tips:
- Check your outlets. Do they work? Have you noticed any discoloration around the outlet? If you have any issues with your outlets, be sure to contact a licensed electrician to safely inspect and correct any issues.
- Are your outlets overloaded? It’s tempting to plug in extension cords with multiple outlets, but that may not be the safest course of action. Don’t create an “octopus” of cords into your outlets and spread out your electrical usage.
- Don’t use cords that are frayed, or with exposed wiring. Avoid the temptation to use Christmas lights that have bad cords simply because they still light up. If the cords are frayed, it’s time for new ones.
- Be sure your home doesn’t have any leaks that could fall onto electrical outlets, wires, or paneling. Large buildup of melting snow can seep into the house and find it’s way into an outlet or circuit breaker panel. If you do have a leak, seek out the help of professionals including a licensed electrician for repairs.
- Electrical surges can destroy thousands of dollars in electronics and additional costs for professional wiring repair. Consider installing a certified surge protector in the main electrical panel to protect your home from damaging power surges.
- Watch for signs of problems. This can include smoke from outlets, unusual smells like something is burning, or sizzling sounds from electrical outlets. Other signs include lights that won’t turn on or off anymore. These issues indicate that you should contact a licensed electrician to investigate and fix the problems.
- If you are leaving your home for an extended period, unplug all unnecessary appliances such as televisions, computers, toasters, etc. Only leave appliances such as the refrigerator and freezers plugged in. This reduces the risk of electrical fires and could even save money while no one is home.