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Cold snap prompts heater warnings


Improper use of heaters can have devastating consequences for Australians.

The Victorian government has banned two particular models of open-flue gas heaters following the death of a Melbourne woman due to carbon monoxide poisoning. While these types of heaters are losing ground to more-popular space heaters, there are still hundreds of thousands of them in homes throughout the state.

There haven't been any carbon monoxide poisoning cases in New South Wales (nor any bans), but NSW Fair Trading commissioner Rose Webb said the tragic loss of life in Melbourne has highlighted the need for consumers to be made aware of the dangers.

“Harmful gases such as carbon monoxide can be released from open-flue heaters, outdoor heaters, burning charcoal or BBQ coal,” Ms Webb said in a statement.

How to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning

Webb goes on to suggest ways people can avoid being exposed to harmful gases that can escape from heaters. These include making sure of the following:

  • The heater and gas are certified, properly installed and regularly serviced
  • The room where the heater is kept is well ventilated
  • The heater is turned off when you're not around
  • Children are supervised around the heater

When it is breathed in, carbon monoxide deprives the heart, brain and other vital organs of oxygen by crowding out oxygen in the bloodstream.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. Breathing in too much carbon monoxide can lead to unconsciousness and even death. Low-level exposure for an extended period can also lead to chronic conditions like pulmonary fibrosis, which is the building up of scar tissue in the air sacs of the lungs. This makes it difficult to breathe, which can have a negative effect on people's ability to perform many everyday activities.

The risk of fire

The increased use of heaters in wintertime also presents a higher risk of fire. According to life insurer Suncorp, house-fire claims increase an average of 12% every winter compared to autumn. They attribute this to faulty heating units, including heaters and electric blankets as well as to chimney fires and candles.

“Far too many people are still taking risks, such as leaving electric blankets on overnight, leaving fires and candles unattended and placing heaters in high foot-traffic areas of their home or too close to flammable household items,” Suncorp spokesperson Ashleigh Paterson said in a statement.

“Simple steps like checking appliances and heating equipment are key to avoiding the devastation of house fires, so it’s critical that Australians take the proper precautions. If they’re not working properly, or you’re suspicious for any reason at all, we urge you to get them checked by a professional or replace them", she continued.

With a little advance planning, you can reduce the risk to life and home posed by heaters. While looking after your heater and other heating devices is the number one priority, accidents can still happen. You can shield yourself and your loved ones from unexpected events like sickness, death and loss of property with life insurance and home insurance.

Life insurance provides benefits if you become sick, disabled or die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning or a host of other illnesses. Home insurance helps you if you were to lose your home or belongings in a house fire or other unexpected event.

Picture: Shutterstock

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