Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention in an Assisted Living Facility

Carbon monoxide poisoning can have dire and even deadly consequences. As a consequence, assisted living facilities need to take particular care to protect residents from exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning. As a consequence, there are specific legal requirements that an assisted living facility in California and in other states must meet to protect residents from carbon monoxide. 

This article is not designed to be a legal recitation of requirements for an assisted living facility. This article is not intended to provide legal advice to an assisted living facility, its staff, or its residence. Rather, we present basic and essential information about carbon monoxide, the dangers of this gas, and how to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning. 

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas produced by burning gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal or other types of fuel. Improperly ventilated appliances and engines, particularly in a tightly sealed or enclosed space, may allow carbon monoxide to accumulate to dangerous levels. When that occurs, a person in such a location is at risk of serious injury or even death. 

What Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide builds up in a person’s bloodstream, according to the Mayo Clinic. When a situation occurs where too much carbon monoxide is in the air, the body of an individual in such a situation undergoes a transition in which oxygen in your red blood cells ends up being replaced by carbon monoxide. This process can lead to serious tissue damage or even a person’s death.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

There are a number of symptoms associated with carbon monoxide poisoning. These are:

  • Dull headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness

Bear in mind that in many instances people die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning while they are sleeping. 

People at Greatest Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

There are two categories of people deemed at greatest risk of serious injury or death as result of exposure to carbon monoxide:

  • Children: Young children take breaths more frequently than adults do, which may make them more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Older adults: Older people who experience carbon monoxide poisoning may be more likely to develop brain damage.

Because older adults are at greater risk of serious injury or even death when exposed to carbon monoxide, assisted living communities have a particularly significant responsibility to protect against resident exposure to this gas. There are specific state and sometimes local guidelines that establish carbon monoxide monitoring requirements for an assisted living community or similar type of residential community. 

It is also important to note that individuals with chronic heart disease are more likely to become ill due to exposure to carbon monoxide. There will be a higher percentage of individuals with heart disease in assisted living communities when contrasted with the general population. 

General Precautions to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

There are some important steps that can be taken in order to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning. These include:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors: Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed throughout an assisted living facility (as required by applicable regulations). Even carbon monoxide detectors that are hard-wired into the electrical system of a facility have backup batteries. Check batteries every time you check your smoke detector batteries. This inspection should occur at least twice a year. If the alarm on a carbon monoxide detector sounds, an evacuation needs to occur immediately and 911 called. 
  • Open the garage door before starting a vehicle: Never leave a vehicle running in a garage. Be particularly cautious if an assisted living facility has an attached garage. Leaving a vehicle running in a space attached to the rest of a facility is never safe, even with the garage door remains open.
  • Use gas appliances as recommended: Never use a gas stove or oven to heat a space. Never use portable gas camp stoves indoors. Use fuel-burning space heaters only when someone is awake to monitor the equipment and doors or windows are open to provide fresh air. Don’t run a generator in an enclosed space, such as the basement, garage, or even on a patio connected to a facility.
  • Keep your fuel-burning appliances and engines properly vented. These include:
  • Space heaters
  • Furnaces
  • Charcoal grills
  • Cooking ranges
  • Water heaters
  • Fireplaces
  • Portable generators
  • Wood-burning stoves
  • Car and truck engines

Note: Some of the items on this list should not be at an assisted living facility in the first instance. 

  • Ask the utility company about yearly checkups for all gas appliances, including the facility furnace.
  • If you have a fireplace, keep it in good repair: Clean a fireplace chimney and flue every year.
  • Keep vents and chimneys unblocked during remodeling: Check that they aren’t covered by tarps or debris.
  • Make repairs before returning to the site of an incident: If carbon monoxide poisoning has occurred, it is critical to find and repair the source of the carbon monoxide. Your local fire department or utility company may be able to help.
  • Use caution when working with solvents in a closed area: Methylene chloride, a solvent commonly found in paint and varnish removers, can break down in a person’s system into carbon monoxide when inhaled. Technically, this is known as metabolizing. Exposure to methylene chloride can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Final Points About Carbon Monoxide Safety in Assisted Living

An assisted living community should designate a staff member to be responsible for carbon monoxide surveillance. What this means is that a particular team member should be designated to monitor for situations that could result in the release of carbon monoxide into a facility. In addition, this individual should be responsible for ensuring that carbon monoxide detectors are in full operating condition. Finally, this staff member should be one of the individuals involved in regulatory compliance when it comes to carbon monoxide protections at an assisted living community. 

Staff and residents alike should have appropriate informational sessions on a recurring basis about carbon monoxide safety. This might be included in a more comprehensive informational program that includes matters like carbon monoxide and fire safety.