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carbon monoxide

Key Initiatives: Carbon Monoxide Education and Awareness

Carbon Monoxide Education and Awareness

Carbon monoxide (CO) exposures are a persistent risk in our safety system. In the past five years, there have been nine fatalities in British Columbia as a result of CO exposure, a fatality rate of two per year. The majority of CO incidents from 2016 to 2020, including fatalities, occurred at the edge of our safety system, where presence is limited. In many cases, the incidents occurred at properties that are geographically distant from licensed contractors, where owners chose do-it-yourself (DIY) installations.

Carbon Monoxide Study

In April 2020, Technical Safety BC commissioned a study from PMG Intelligence to determine Canadians’ awareness, attitudes, and behaviours related to CO. Key findings from this study included:

  • Fewer than 1-in-5 Canadians are ‘very knowledgeable' about carbon monoxide
  • Only 1-in-2 Canadians have checked to ensure their carbon monoxide alarms are working properly in the last year
  • 3-in-10 Canadians are not sure of the potential sources of carbon monoxide in their home
  • 38% of Canadians are unaware that carbon monoxide alarms have expiry dates and need to be replaced according to the manufacturer’s expiry date
  • 71% of Canadians either do not know the signs of carbon monoxide buildup in their home or are unsure what the signs are

These insights, along with two fatal incidents that took place in 2020, made CO awareness a top priority for both the gas industry and the provincial government. In partnership with these key stakeholders, we developed and executed a six-month education and awareness campaign to improve awareness of CO risks in British Columbia.

Fatal incidents

On June 27, 2020, fatal exposure to carbon monoxide resulted in the death of one person and critically injured another. This incident occurred in a recreational cabin in Ruby Lake on the Sunshine Coast. 

Another serious carbon monoxide incident took place on August 3, 2020 in Tulameen. This led to the death of two people.

Both incidents occurred on recreational properties where the owners had completed their own installations of propane-burning appliances. 

In the Ruby Lake incident, investigators identified propane appliances that were installed improperly and not certified for use in Canada. The Tulameen incident was caused by a propane-fueled on-demand tankless water heater that was found to have been improperly installed in a shower building. Do-It-Yourself (DIY) installations frequently present a greater CO risk and the incident investigation reports into both of these incidents revealed that appliances were installed in a hazardous manner inconsistent with Canadian code and certification standards.

These two incidents led to stronger messaging around the importance of having licensed contractors install gas appliances and annually inspect them. Carbon monoxide was also considered a higher priority risk leading to a larger public safety campaign in the fall.

Carbon Monoxide safety education efforts

In 2020, we ran two carbon monoxide awareness campaigns and launched supporting course and webinar materials to help educate the general public. 

Targeting gas industry workers, the client education team created an online course about carbon monoxide. The course covers the characteristics of carbon monoxide, how it is produced, and outlines the ways in which gas industry workers can prevent CO risks.

Investigation findings were shared with the Ruby Lake Homeowner Association. A community outreach webinar gave attendees a better understanding of the incident that occurred and a chance to ask our technical experts any questions. In total, nine households attended.

Carbon Monoxide safety awareness campaigns

A summer campaign running from July through mid-September shared valuable CO safety tips to campers, RV owners, boaters, and those staying in vacation rentals. 

This was followed by a fall campaign targeting homeowners and renters promoting tips on how to keep homes CO-safe. The objective of both campaigns was to increase awareness of symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure (including rapid-onset exposure) and the sources and prevention of CO safety risks.

Throughout this six-month, cross-channel campaign, Technical Safety BC partnered with key industry and government stakeholders such as the Office of the Fire Commissioner, PreparedBC, Fortis BC, Pacific Northern Gas, the Canadian Propane Association, the Insurance Bureau of Canada, and Vancouver General Hospital.

Carbon Monoxide Awareness
Examples of advertisement materials used in our carbon monoxide awareness campaign (July 2020)

Future awareness and education

Carbon monoxide remains one of the deadliest risks in BC, causing approximately two fatalities per year. Awareness and education around CO safety is absolutely crucial to mitigating the very real risk CO presents to our communities. Technical Safety BC is committed to continuing its work with communities to increase awareness of the causes of CO poisoning and promoting preventative and safe behaviours.