Carbon monoxide safety

Published: 
21 Jul 2015

Carbon monoxide is a toxic, colourless and odourless gas that can come out of many commonly used items. It can cause long-term health effects such as heart disease and brain damage and is often deadly. Learn about the hazards and some tips on how to help avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

The main cause of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning is from combustion of fuels such as petrol, oil, gas and wood in areas with little or no ventilation.

 

Products that may emit carbon monoxide

Some common products that can emit carbon monoxide when you use them are:

  • barbeques that use wood, charcoal or gas
  • fireplaces that use wood, charcoal or gas
  • portable cookers that use gas or kerosene
  • portable and/or outdoor heaters that use gas or kerosene
  • flued gas heaters (under certain conditions)
  • electrical generators that are diesel- or petrol-powered
  • electrical equipment that is diesel- or petrol-powered (such as pumps, chainsaws, blowers and welders).

Hazards

Accidental poisoning

Human senses cannot detect the presence of carbon monoxide. Furthermore, carbon monoxide poisoning can happen without the immediate symptoms being obvious, or the symptoms may be confused with those of simple fatigue or a common cold. If symptoms show up it may be too late to reverse the effects of the poisoning.

Symptoms of poisoning can include:

  • headaches
  • tiredness
  • dizziness or weakness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of memory
  • confusion.

Health effects of poisoning

In severe cases, carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to long-term and/or irreversible health effects such as:

  • heart disease
  • brain damage
  • loss of consciousness
  • death.

Injury case studies

In January 2011, a Queensland man died from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning caused by generator fumes while taking shelter from cyclone Yasi.

In 2009, a 43 year old Sydney man died from carbon monoxide poisoning after using an outdoor charcoal barbeque inside his home.

During 2006-07, there were 365 public hospital cases for carbon monoxide poisonings recorded in Australia. (Source: Department of Health and Ageing, 2008)

In the US around 30 deaths and 450 injuries each year are related to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. (Source: United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention)

Safety tips

  • Never use the above listed products inside the house or in areas that are not well ventilated, such as enclosed patios, garages and sheds, greenhouses, tents and caravans.
  • If you have an indoor fuel heater, consider having it checked by a licensed professional at the start of winter to ensure it is not producing excess carbon monoxide.
  • If you have a fireplace, ensure that the chimney has no blockages before you start using it.
  • Similarly, if you have a wood heater ensure the exhaust vent pipe is free of blockages.
  • If you are camping and need to use portable cookers, heaters and barbeques in a covered area (for example, if it’s raining), make sure that the area is well ventilated.
  • In an emergency situation or power blackout where you need to use items such as electrical generators and portable heaters, ensure that the area they are being used in is well ventilated.
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