With New Zealand facing the coldest weather in this winter season, the chances of gas heating related accidents have gone up at all-time-high, almost silently.
Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer because it is an invisible, tasteless and odourless gas that can kill in minutes.
Every year in New Zealand there are incidences of accidental carbon monoxide poisonings.
Toxicologist Dr John Fountain says there are three critical factors to keep in mind: any form of combustion in an enclosed space that is not adequately ventilated can be a trap.
Twelve-year-old Jesse Samuels died in Haast in January in his grandfather’s gas-heated outdoor shower at their holiday home as the toxic fumes overcame him in the enclosed space.
In July 2016, a Christchurch family only survived because their youngest child had a fit and became unconscious as they were going to bed. A generator had been left running in the garage and the door was slightly open, enough to let toxic fumes overwhelm the family.
However, the outcome was not so positive for an Ashburton mother and her three children in 2015, who died after she left the car running to charge the battery. The garage was connected to the house.
Since LPG and natural gas heaters are used widely to warm New Zealand homes and businesses, Worksafe NZ website carries information on some do’s and don’ts to remain safe.
- Used wisely, gas is instant, reliable, efficient and safe. However, like any other form of energy it must be treated with respect to prevent accidents.
- In small rooms (eg bedrooms and bathrooms) a permanently installed gas heater may be only used in certain restricted circumstances. Ask a licensed gas worker for advice.
- Don't use unflued gas appliances, such as LPG cabinet heaters or instantaneous water heaters in small rooms or in bedrooms and bathrooms
- There are three main types of heating: flued, room sealed, and unflued. Flued gas heaters have a number of advantages over unflued heaters.
- Unflued gas appliances have no vent or chimney. They draw the air they need from the space around them and discharge the waste combustion products directly into that space. As a result, it is extremely important that unflued gas appliances are used in well-ventilated areas with plenty of fresh air circulating.
- One Unflued gas appliances have no vent or chimney. They draw the air they need from the space around them and discharge the waste combustion products directly into that space. As a result, it is extremely important that unflued gas appliances are used in well-ventilated areas with plenty of fresh air circulating.
- Portable gas heaters such as LPG cabinet heaters and other unflued space heaters need special care.
- Test your connections (cabinet heaters): After securely connecting a new or refilled cylinder, apply soapy water to the cylinder connections and turn on the cylinder. If bubbles appear you have a leak. Close the valve and either call an LPG service agent or take the heater to the agent.
- Safe space: Always keep your heater at least one metre away from anything that could catch on fire. Put a safety guard around your heater if you have young children in your home or there is a lot of foot traffic.
- Fresh air: Keep a window open when you use your unflued heater, to help remove heater emissions (combustion products) and to keep the air fresh and reduce condensation. Never use unflued heaters in bedrooms and bathrooms.
- Burner: If you see soot building up on the burner it is a sign there is something wrong and you should not use the heater. Call an appliance service agent or gasfitter to have the appliance checked.
If you smell gas inside your home
- Keep flames and cigarettes out of the room and away from the area.
- Never operate any electrical switches when a gas leak is suspected – a flick off or on could cause a spark and ignite the gas.
- Don't use your mobile phone in the area.
- Turn off all valves to gas appliances if this can be done safely.
- Turn off the gas supply at the meter or LPG cylinder.
- Open doors and windows to ventilate the area.
- If the smell persists in the house go outside to a safe place away from the building.