In March 2017, a family of four and their dog died in their home due to carbon monoxide (CO) exposure in the off-grid community of Ashcroft. Technical Safety BC concluded that the fatality was likely caused by a tankless, on-demand water heater that had been installed incorrectly by one of the homeowners. The water heater vented CO indoors, leading to tragic results and raising concerns about the safety of others in the area. Our efforts to address carbon monoxide risk in remote communities and raise awareness was a major focus of our activities in 2018.
To help the community understand the cause of the tragedy, and the hazards that can lead to CO exposure, Technical Safety BC’s regional leaders partnered with local municipal organizations to conduct a collaborative community response. Representatives from the RCMP, Ashcroft Fire Department, Thompson-Nicola Regional District, and Interior Health held three community meetings.
Together with the support of community leaders, Technical Safety BC conducted site visits to 76 dwellings and met with occupants. Safety officers completed 35 hazard assessments and, of these, almost all had safety hazards needing correction. The safety issues included gas appliances venting within structures, incorrect assembly or installation, appliances situated too close to combustible surfaces, and some appliances that were not approved for use in Canada.
“Safety is our objective and one of our main activities to prevent unsafe conditions is to promote compliance with established codes and standards,” explains Wayne Johnson, the gas safety officer who led the investigation and who worked extensively with community residents. “Rather than use a heavy-handed approach and focus on enforcement, we focused on education and awareness. Many of the residents simply lacked information about the risks and welcomed the opportunity to learn. By working one-on-one with the community and residents, it gave us the opportunity to create relationships and open up a dialogue about safety.”
In May 2018, we introduced Guidelines for the Gas Service Industry. Aimed at gasfitters and contractors who perform maintenance on gas-fueled appliances, the manual shares information on common factors behind increased carbon monoxide levels and how to prevent them, as well as guidelines and protocols for installation, servicing and maintenance. Training was also held in TechTalk sessions across BC, to help raise awareness of these issues among industry.
The need to educate the public around the importance of having gas work done by licensed contractors or, for those wishing to complete the work themselves, under a homeowner permit which includes physical inspection by our safety officers, continues to be a key issue for our organization. Each year Technical Safety BC seeks to inform the public about the dangers of CO poisoning and to bring awareness around the issue. In spring 2018, we ran a province-wide campaign focused on preventing carbon monoxide poisoning in homes which leveraged printed advertorials, digital ads, and boosted social media posts. We also attended the Vancouver Home Show, where we displayed a mini house warning of the most common causes of carbon monoxide in the home. We also released a “Guidelines for the Gas Services Industry” manual which provides information for gas fitters and gas contractors who are installing, servicing or performing maintenance on gas appliances. The manual aims to bring awareness to how incorrect installation or maintenance; component failure and external factors such as exhaust fans or air handling equipment may all contribute to elevated carbon monoxide levels. Training was held via webinars and TechTalks all across the province.