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Gas or Wood? How To Safely Keep Warm This Winter.

We are now well into winter and definitely feeling the chill! South African homes are not well equipped to withstand the cold and we have to resort to various heating appliances to stay warm during winter. This is why structural fires and carbon monoxide poisoning are so common during the winter months. Below, I outline some safety tips on keeping warm in the home.

WHEN USING A GAS HEATER

  1. Always make sure the gas heater and especially the cylinder is completely turned off before going to bed or leaving the house.

  2. Always keep the room well ventilated to avoid carbon monoxide (CO) build up.

  3. Do not use outdoor gas heaters indoors, as they may produce more CO.

  4. Make sure all components of the heater are well maintained. Ensure the gas bottle is safely secured with no leaks.

  5. Natural gas is odourless. In order to identify leaks more easily manufacturers add chemicals to give it that distinctive rotten eggs smell.  If you smell gas in your home turn off the gas cylinder and do not use an electric fan to try and remove the gas.

  6. When switching your gas heater on always start by first turning on a match or lighter and then opening the gas supply. When switching the heater off always turn the gas cylinder off first.

  7. Never move a gas heater whilst in use.

  8. Do not place anything on or over the heater, such as damp laundry items. This can result in a fire. Do not ever sit on a gas heater either as it could fall over.

  9. Do not use flammable liquids and/or aerosols near a gas heater. Do not use a gas heater in a room that has recently been painted.

  10. Make sure to keep all flammable items a safe one-metre away.

  11. Have smoke and CO detectors installed and test them regularly.

  12. Always keep a fire extinguisher in your home.

 

WHEN USING A FIREPLACE 

  1. Keep a window slightly open.  This will help prevent the room filling up with smelly smoke. It also prevents the build up of carbon monoxide (CO).

  2. Make sure the damper of your chimney is open so that the smoke can leave the house. Only close the damper once the fire is completely extinguished.

  3. Use dry wood and not wet or green wood. Wet and green wood cause more smoke.

  4. Clean out any ash from the previous fire. Thick layers of ash restrict the air supply to the fire and cause more smoke. 

  5. Use smaller pieces of wood because these create less smoke.

  6. Remember to have your chimney cleaned once a year before the winter season. Animal nests and excess soot can block the escape of smoke.

  7. Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Always make sure it is completely extinguished before going to bed and/or leaving the house.

  8. Make sure the area around the fireplace is clear of potentially flammable items such as books, curtains and furniture. Keep a safe one-metre distance.

  9. Keep fireplace tools and accessories such as firelighters, matches and lighters out of a child’s reach.

  10. Use safety screens so your children can’t get burnt by hot flying embers or by touching the hot glass of a closed fireplace.

  11. Have smoke and CO detectors installed in your house and test them regularly.

  12. Always keep a fire extinguisher in your home!

CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING

It may seem counter-productive to keep a window open when you are trying to keep your home warm, but this is extremely important if you are burning a fuel, such as gas, paraffin, coal or wood to generate heat.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless and odourless gas produced by the incomplete combustion of these carbon-containing fuels. When there is too much CO in the air your body replaces the oxygen attached to red blood cells in the blood, with carbon monoxide. This is because the affinity between haemaglobin (Hb) (in the red blood cells) and carbon monoxide is much stronger than the affinity between Hb and oxygen. This can be extremely dangerous and lead to hypoxia, irreversible brain damage and eventually death.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected you need to move the victim into fresh air, either by opening all the doors and windows or getting the person outside. This will allow some oxygen to start displacing the carbon monoxide. Definitive management is however in hospital with high flow 100% oxygen so you need to call an ambulance right away.

ELECTRIC HEATERS

Some of you may have electric heaters in your homes. These are safer than using gas and fire but still not 100% safe. Electric heaters use a lot of electricity so they can easily overload circuits and cause power failures or fires.

You should never plug in more than one electrical device into the same outlet as the heater to prevent overheating and overloading. To prevent electric shocks electric heaters should not be used in rooms where moisture builds up such as bathrooms and kitchens. There is also a fire risk if flammable items such as fabric come into contact with electric heaters that have hot elements and the electric bar heaters pose an additional burn risk.

Whatever heating methods you use this winter none of them are guaranteed safe, so remember to take the necessary precautions. It is important that you teach your children about fire safety from a young age. If your little ones do get thermal burns from poking fires and other heating elements follow the principles of first aid.

To find out more about management of thermal burns you can read my previous post: https://www.oneaid.co.za/baking-with-your-little-ones-safety-and-tips-to-taking-care-of-thermal-burns/. It is also recommended that you develop a fire escape plan and make sure your children know how to safely get out of the house in the event of a fire.

RESOURCES

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/gas-heating-health-and-safety-issues

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/all-around/Pages/Fire-Safety.aspx

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/carbon-monoxide-poisoning/ https://riseandshine.childrensnational.org/how-to-protect-children-around-fireplaces/

7 Tips To Keep Your Sleeping Baby Safe

I’m sure many of you have heard of SIDS, which is also known as cot death. SIDS is defined as the sudden unexpected death of an infant, which appears to happen during sleep, where the death can’t be explained even after an autopsy.

In the developed world, SIDS and suffocation are the most common cause of sudden unexpected infant deaths (an infant is a child under 1 year of age). Unfortunately, in South Africa, we don’t know the stats since most infants that die unexpectedly don’t undergo routine autopsies to identify cause of death.

You all probably know that back sleeping is the safest for your baby, but there are other additional ways you can reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of death. I have put together some tips in which to create a safe sleep environment for your baby from birth up until 1 year of age.

1. POSITION

Always place your baby to sleep on his or her back, for night sleeps AND naps. There is no evidence to prove that your baby is more like to choke if he or she vomits or regurgitates in this position, compared to a baby that sleeps in any other position. Placing your baby to sleep on their side is also not recommended, unless indicated for medical reasons by your practitioner.

Once your baby starts to roll, continue to place them to sleep on their backs but do not drive yourself mad by constantly repositioning them if they do roll over in their sleep. Once babies have mastered the art of rolling they can roll themselves right out of trouble if their breathing becomes difficult.

It’s important to also talk a little bit about flat head syndrome (plagiocephaly). Back sleeping is associated with this condition. Babies’ skulls are soft and constant pressure on the same spot can cause the head to change shape. You can avoid this deformity by repositioning your baby’s head to face opposite sides with each sleep.

2. SURFACE

Your baby should sleep on a firm flat surface. Not a soft surface like a couch, pillow or blanket. Babies should not sleep in car seats, baby swings and carriers either (this is not back sleeping). If your baby does fall asleep in one of these, it’s better to place them flat in their cot or bassinet as soon as possible. I spoke about recline angle and heads blocking airways in my post about car seat safety.

In addition to floppy heads its important to realise that a baby’s head is very large compared to their body. So if you elevate the head too much the airway can also become obstructed.

 

What happens to the airway when the head is elevated

 

3. BEDDING

It’s hard to avoid decorating your little one’s room when there are so many gorgeous accessories available. Just remember to remove all loose items from their beds before naps and bedtime. Such items are a potential entrapment, strangulation and suffocation hazard. Pillows, blankets, stuffed animals and even cot bumpers should not be in your baby’s bed whilst they sleep. There is no evidence to even prove that cot bumpers actually do prevent injury and infants don’t need pillows.

Please also be aware of mobiles. Depending on how high your mobile is your little one may be able to reach for it, as he or she gets older. Then the strings and other components could become a choking and/or strangulation risk.

4. LOCATION

This tip is debatable since there is mixed evidence in the literature. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that your baby share your room but not your bed. This recommendation was introduced after many infants who co-shared died by either becoming trapped in the bedding or smothered by a parent.

Interestingly in African and Asian countries, this has not been seen. These countries, where co-sharing is the norm, actually have lower rates of sleep-related infant deaths than Western countries. Researchers suggest that co-sharing is actually protective because infants who sleep next to their parents are constantly stimulated. This stimulation keeps them in a more aroused state so they spend less time in deep sleep and are therefore at a lower risk of stopping breathing.

5. TEMPERATURE 

Your baby should not get too hot in their sleep. Dress your baby in only ONE extra layer than you would comfortably wear. A sleep sack is a safe option. No blankets please!

The room temperature should also be kept comfortable. Most baby monitors have a built in temperature function but if yours doesn’t, keep an indoor thermometer in the room and don’t let the temperature go higher than 22o Celsius.

6. PACIFIER

It has been shown that a pacifier reduces the risk of SIDS. You can try giving your baby a pacifier but only once breastfeeding has been well established (if you choose to breastfeed). The nipple can confuse your baby if given too early and you may then have problems with latching.

Remove dummy chains or strings before giving your baby a pacifier to sleep. Also, don’t stress if the dummy falls out during sleep (it most probably will), you don’t need to replace it.

Don’t force a dummy. It’s ok if your baby doesn’t like it, not all babies do.

7. FURNITURE

Now take a step back and look around your baby’s room. Make sure all electrical cables, window blind cords and any other potentially hazardous items within arms reach from the cot are removed.

Looking after our babies is a lot of work and we always need to be on call and think 2 steps ahead. But now that your little one is sleeping SAFELY, go and put your feet up and have a cup of coffee… or maybe go take a nap yourself!

RESOURCES

Cadematori, M.E., Piranian, M.A., Skrzypek, P.A. & Pron, A.M. (2016) Caregiver Compliance With Safe Sleep Guidelines. Newborn & Infant Nursing Reviews, [online] 16, pp. 122–125. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S152733691630054X [Accessed: 26 September 2018].

Kibel, M.A., Molteno, C.D. & De Decker, R. (2005) Cot death controversies. Cot death. SAMJ, [online] 95 (11). Available from: http://www.samj.org.za/index.php/samj/article/viewFile/1881/1202 [Accessed: 26 September 2018].

Koren, A., Reece, S.M., Kahn-D’angelo, L. & Medeiros, D. (2009) Parental Information and Behaviors and Provider Practices Related to Tummy Time and Back to Sleep. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, [online] 24 (4), pp. 222-230. DOI: 10.1016/j.pedhc.2009.05.002 [Accessed 26 September 2018].

Miller, L.C., Johnson, A., Duggan, L. & Behm, M. (2011) Consequences of the “Back to Sleep” Program in Infants. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, [online] 26, pp. 364-368. Available from: https://0-ac-els–cdn-com.innopac.wits.ac.za/S0882596309002930/1-s2.0-S0882596309002930-main.pdf?_tid=dccfa213-e0d1-4850-beeb-18fd49b69dd5&acdnat=1537520788_cb816c0abb2f56d365e5a1b195a3ca24 [Accessed 26 September 2018].

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