How to avoid heater accidents

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Winter is here and with it comes the need to prepare for falling temperatures.

“Preparation is the best way to protect your family from the dangers that come with extreme cold and wintry conditions,” says Dr. Craig Smith, health director for Mount Rogers Health District, which includes Galax and Carroll and Grayson counties.

“We are urging residents to plan ahead and practice safety at home and while traveling.”

Heater Safety

Unfortunately every year, the local news includes reports of home fires that are caused by malfunctioning or improperly used heaters.

Use of a furnace, wood stove, fireplace or space heater requires extreme care. Take precautions to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by having heating systems, water heaters and any other gas, oil, or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician, and make sure that smoke/carbon monoxide detectors are battery-operated — and that batteries are charged.

Space heaters pose specific risks that can be reduced by observing the following tips.

• Use heaters only on the floor, at least three feet away from objects such as furniture or drapes.

• Do not place heaters where anything could fall on them.

• Unless certified for that specific purpose, do not use heaters in wet or moist places, such as bathrooms: corrosion or other damage could lead to a shock or fire hazard.

• Do not hide the cord under rugs or carpets. Placing anything on top of a cord can cause the cord to overheat and cause a fire.

• Do not use an extension cord with a portable electric heater unless absolutely necessary, and then only if it is marked #14 or #12 A WG. Be sure that the plug fits snugly in the outlet, loose plugs can overheat.

• If a heater trips a circuit breaker, do not use it again without having the heater checked, even if it seems to be working properly. Circuit breakers protect the location where leakage currents can cause a severe shock.

• A broken heater should be checked and repaired by a qualified appliance service center. Do not attempt to repair it yourself.

Winter Storms

• In the home, make sure you have drinking water, a first aid kit, canned/no-cook food, a non-electric can opener, radio, flashlight, and batteries, and extra clothing and blankets.

• Monitor severe weather alerts, and know the difference between a winter storm watch, which means conditions are favorable for a storm to occur, and a winter storm warning, which means a storm is in progress.

Dress for the Cold

• If you go outside for any reason, dress for the season and expected conditions.

In cold weather, wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing.

• Outer garments should be tightly woven and water-repellent.

• Mittens are warmer than gloves.

• Wear a hat.

• Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs from extremely cold air.

• Wear sturdy, waterproof boots. Shoes with slick soles could cause slips and falls.

• Walk carefully and avoid icy areas.

Wind Chill

“Wind chill” is a calculation of how cold it feels outside when the effects of temperature and wind speed are combined. A strong wind combined with a temperature of just below freezing can have the same effect as a still air temperature about 35 degrees colder. These colder winds can cause frostbite or hypothermia.

• Remember that cold weather puts extra strain on the heart and be careful of overexertion in unaccustomed activities, such as shoveling snow.

• Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that can cause permanent damage. Signs include a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, nose, or earlobes.

• Hypothermia is brought on when body temperature drops to less than 90° F, and symptoms include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness, and exhaustion.

• If either frostbite or hypothermia is suspected, begin warming the person slowly and seek immediate medical assistance.

Driving Tips

The leading cause of death during a winter storm is motor vehicle accidents. It is very important to prepare your vehicle for adverse driving conditions.

• Have the following items checked: battery, antifreeze, wipers and washer fluid, ignition system, thermostat, lights, hazard lights, exhaust system, heater, brakes, defroster, and oil level.

• It is also important to make sure you have appropriate tires for driving in snow and ice.

• You should maintain at least half a tank of gas at all times.

• Keep a first aid kit, flashlight with extra batteries, blankets, food and water in your car.

• Drive slowly, and avoid braking suddenly, which can cause a skid. Try to maintain some distance between yourself and other cars, stay alert, and monitor weather conditions.

• Should you become stranded, do not leave your car unless you can see shelter within 100 yards.