This week’s snowstorm could lead to long power outages with some individuals using portable generators for electricity. New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd reminds everyone to observe all safety procedures while operating generators.
“As the snowstorm worsens, it is important for families to take precautionary measures to prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning,” said Commissioner O’Dowd. “Carbon monoxide poisoning is serious and can cause headaches, fatigue, confusion and irritability. At higher levels, it can cause nausea vomiting, irregular heartbeat, and in some cases, death.”
Carbon Monoxide often is called the “silent killer” because you can’t see, smell, taste, or hear it. Exposure to low levels of CO can cause headaches, sleepiness, fatigue, confusion and irritability. At higher levels, it can cause nausea, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, impaired vision and coordination and death.
During 2013, there were approximately 630 New Jersey residents treated for unintentional CO exposure in emergency departments throughout the state. Of those incidents, 44 residents were hospitalized. During 2012, 19 New Jersey residents died from CO exposure.
The following safety tips should be followed when using generators:
- Never run a generator in a basement, garage or any enclosed or partially enclosed structure as this will lead to a dangerous and often fatal accumulation of carbon monoxide.
- Never position a generator too close to your home’s windows and doors.
- Use battery-operated carbon monoxide alarms. Test and change the batteries at regular intervals
- Never connect a generator directly to your home’s wiring unless your home has been wired for generator use. This can cause backfeeding along power lines and electrocute anyone coming in contact with them, including lineworkers making repairs
- Always plug appliances directly into generators
- Use heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cords. Make sure extension cords are free of cuts or tears and the plug has three prongs
- Ensure your generator is properly grounded
- Never overload a generator. A portable generator should only be used when necessary to power essential equipment or appliances
- Turn off all equipment powered by the generator before shutting it down.
- Keep the generator dry. Operate it on a dry surface under an open structure
- Always have a fully charged fire extinguisher nearby
- Never fuel a generator while it is operating and wait until it is cool to the touch.
If you are using a generator and suspect carbon monoxide poisoning take immediate action including:
- Call 9-1-1 immediately if a person is not breathing, is unconscious or unresponsive, or having seizures or convulsions
- Exit the home/building/enclosed space immediately
- Contact your local fire department
The NJ Poison Information and Education Systems (NJ PIES) has a toll-free, 24/7 information line at 1-800-222-1222 where individuals can talk to health professionals about carbon monoxide poisoning.
In addition, the New Jersey Department of Health reminds individuals to take steps to remain healthy and safe when shoveling snow this week. If you have a heart condition, consult your doctor before shoveling snow.
The Department offers these tips on snow removal:
- Ease into shoveling and warm up as if you are exercising. Don’t over-exert yourself, take your time and don’t lift more snow than you can handle. Shoveling snow can raise your heart rate and blood pressure dramatically
- Push snow. Lift it if possible
- Use your legs and not your back to lift snow
- Don’t pick too much snow up at once, if the snow is wet and heavy, use a small shovel, or only fill one-fourth or one-half of a large shovel
- Don’t work to the point of exhaustion. If you run out of breath, take a break. If you feel tightness in your chest stop shoveling immediately and call for medical assistance if symptoms persist
For more information on staying safe during winter weather, visit http://www.nj.gov/health/er/