Mitigating carbon monoxide hazards in a remote community

Carbon monoxide detector

In March 2017, four people and the family dog were found deceased in their dwelling. Technical Safety BC concluded that the fatality was likely caused by carbon monoxide (CO) exposure due to an incorrectly-installed tankless, on-demand water heater in the living area of the home that was venting CO indoors. The fire department reported measuring in excess of 2,000 parts per million of CO in the air.

The installation of the water heater was unpermitted, unlicensed, and unsafe. This hazard was also preventable.

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.”

Each year Technical Safety BC seeks to inform the public about the dangers of CO poisoning. In 2017, we partnered with FortisBC and Preventables on an advertising campaign, conducted media outreach, and attended several safety-oriented events to raise awareness about preventing CO exposure. Recognizing the potential need for greater awareness in remote communities, Technical Safety BC has since worked with graduate students on a research project which provided additional insights and analysis into the approximately 280 remote communities in BC, 54 of which are considered off-grid. It’s hoped the information gathered will help us improve outreach activities for those areas to inspire local safety leadership and better safety outcomes.

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