Key Initiatives: Carbon Monoxide Safety Education
Carbon monoxide safety education
Following a series of carbon monoxide exposures, Technical Safety BC led an in-depth investigation and published a subsequent report as part of an ongoing effort to to provide actionable safety information to British Columbians.
The Carrier Gas Furnace Report
In 2021, Technical Safety BC conducted a comprehensive investigation into gas-burning furnaces manufactured between 1989-2011 by the Carrier Corporation. The investigation was prompted by the hospitalization of eight people across the province due to carbon monoxide (CO) exposure that involved a common brand of residential furnace. Our Incident Investigation team examined the incidents together to ensure that similarities were identified and scrutinized and findings from the investigation were compiled into a detailed analysis known as the Carrier Gas Furnace Report.
Our analysis revealed that the furnaces in each incident had a common design feature that contributed to the failures, specifically, polypropylene lined secondary heat exchangers. This component was found to be susceptible to corrosion, which ultimately led to failure of the heat exchangers and production of elevated levels of CO. While the Carrier Corporation stopped manufacturing these furnaces in 2011, older furnaces continue to operate across BC with the potential to release elevated levels of CO. In addition, symptoms of CO exposure can be misinterpreted for other illnesses such as the flu, so residents may not be aware of the hazard in their homes.
Public outreach of potential CO risk
Exposure to CO can be hazardous to health and life threatening if not detected. To preserve the health and safety of British Columbians and to help prevent further incidents of CO exposure with these gas furnaces, it was essential to inform the public of the possible risk. In addition to publishing the Carrier Gas report, we conducted a large-scale public safety campaign which included a media press release, email communications to the industry, and social media outreach. A two-pronged communications approach was adopted with targeted messaging for homeowners during the fall season — when furnace inspections commonly take place — as well as broader advisory messaging to the public. Information regarding the affected products was put together on our website along with instructions on how residents and contractors can check their furnace models.
The details of our report and the related risks received significant social media attention and coverage from over 80 local news sources across the province. Since the report was released, our Incident Investigation team has been notified of 17 additional confirmed failures of furnaces from the Carrier Corporation with the same type of heat exchanger. Some of the homes recorded extremely dangerous levels of CO, with measurements up to 9000ppm.
Continued investment in carbon monoxide safety awareness
From July to mid-September 2021, our summer CO marketing campaign provided safety tips to campers, RV owners, boaters and vacationers who stayed in rental homes. This was followed by a fall campaign which encouraged the importance of testing your CO alarm and protecting loved ones who could be the most at risk of CO poisoning.
Carbon monoxide exposures remain a serious risk to our safety system. With 49 per cent of households in BC without a CO detector and an average of two CO-related fatalities a year, it is essential for Technical Safety BC to continue providing continuous education on CO safety. While the effects of CO poisoning can be devastating, they can be prevented.