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Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning

Public health experts call carbon monoxide (CO) the “silent killer” because a person could lose consciousness without even realizing they have been exposed to it. Camps are particularly at risk for high levels of CO because they may have buildings or facilities whose heating element has gone unchecked for a period of time. Outdoor equipment such as portable generators can create dangerous levels of CO when they are used in an enclosed building, such as a cabin.

Sources of carbon monoxide poisoning can include:

  • A car left running.
  • Portable generators.
  • Improperly functioning heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units.
  • A gas- or wood-burning fireplace.
  • A kitchen range or vent that is improperly installed.
  • Portable kerosene heaters.
  • Operating a grill indoors or in a garage.

So, how do you keep your campers and staff safe? Learn to watch for the signs of a CO problem:

  • Water leaking from the base of the chimney or vent or flue pipe.
  • Orange or yellow flames in combustion appliances (as opposed to blue).
  • Discolored bricks at the top of your chimney.
  • Traces of soot around fuel-burning appliances.
  • Excess moisture on windows, walls and other solid surfaces.
  • Large amounts of rust on flue pipes, other pipe connections or appliance jacks.

Of course, some of these warning signs do not help much if you are not regularly checking the areas in which they appear. For that reason, it is best to hire a qualified technician to check your heating system, water heater or any other heating appliances prior to camp season.

You should also make sure you have plenty of carbon monoxide detectors around your facility. Church Mutual recommends that you have CO detectors installed in every building that has gas-fueled heating or cooking units. Even if you watch carefully for the signs of CO, you may miss something, which is why a detector is so important.

Staff and volunteers should also know how to identify when they or someone else has experienced CO poisoning. The first signs of exposure usually include mild headaches and breathlessness when engaged in moderate exercise. Prolonged exposure can lead to flu-like symptoms and dizziness, tiredness and nausea.

If you suspect one of your people is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, immediately move them into an area with fresh air and call 911 right away. Once they are at the hospital, treatment may include pure oxygen or a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

For more safety information and risk control resources

 from Church Mutual, visit