Building and Energy’s top 10 winter safety tips
As we enter the winter months, with cold and stormy weather on our doorstep, it’s important to keep yourself and your family not only warm but safe by considering Building and Energy’s top safety tips.
“The new season acts as reminder to check your electrical and gas appliances before using them, be conscious of extra mould growth, and ensure your property is rain, hail and wind prepared,” Building and Energy Executive Director Saj Abdoolakhan said.
“We urge consumers to follow these simple steps and checks to keep their home safe during winter time.”
1. Get your gas heater serviced by a licensed gas fitter
Building and Energy recommends that you get your gas appliances serviced at least every two years by a licensed gas fitter or annually if the equipment is more than 10 years old.
Faulty and poorly maintained or misused gas heaters can cause a build-up of potentially lethal carbon monoxide gas. Before using a gas heater this winter, check the date on the service sticker on the appliance.
If it has been more than two years or the heater is showing signs of discolouration or difficulty relighting, a licensed gas fitter should be contacted to examine the equipment.
2. Make sure the room has enough ventilation when using indoor gas heaters
When a licensed gas fitter services your gas heater, they should also check whether the room has adequate ventilation. Otherwise, carbon monoxide poisoning can occur.
Carbon monoxide can be produced when gas does not burn properly due to a faulty appliance or lack of fresh air in an enclosed space.
A room with a bayonet socket for a gas space heater should have two unobstructed ventilation openings – one close to the floor and the other close to the ceiling.
“Never use exhaust fans at the same time as an open-flued gas heater as this can draw carbon monoxide into living spaces,” Mr Abdoolakhan said.
3. Always use outdoor or portable gas appliances in the open air
Outdoor and portable gas appliances, such as patio heaters, camping equipment and barbeques, should only be used in the open air to avoid potentially lethal exposure to carbon monoxide.
These appliances, which should be labelled ‘outdoor use only’, must never be used inside tents, caravans, campervans, homes or other enclosed areas, even if the flaps, doors or windows are open.
For more information, see Building and Energy’s Great Outdoors, Lethal Indoors campaign.
4. Check your smoke alarms and RCDs
Smoke alarms can only offer protection when they are working, so it is vital they are tested monthly and have the battery replaced every year.
Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. If you have recently moved into a house, check the date of manufacture which should be displayed on the alarm.
It is also an opportune time to test the RCDs on premise by pushing their ‘Test’ button. The device should snap off in an instant. If the RCD does not operate, make sure you have them replaced by a licensed electrical contractor immediately. Tenants should inform their property manager, who will arrange for the RCDs to be replaced.
5. Look for the RCM on all electrical products
Check that electrical appliances, such as electric blankets and heaters, carry the Regulatory Compliance Mark (RCM) before using them. The mark usually appears as a tick inside a triangle.
“Checking products for the RCM ensures that the product complies with Australian electrical standards,” Mr Abdoolakhan said.
“Be cautious when buying electric blankets and heaters from overseas or online. If an electrical product does not bear the RCM then it has not been approved to be sold in Australia.”
6. Examine electrical appliances that have been in storage
Electric blankets and heaters are often in storage for most of the year. Building and Energy recommends that appliances are checked for any wear and tear before they are used this winter.
Look out for frayed power cords and worn out electric blankets. Replace blankets that are more than 10 years old.
There have been various electrical blanket recalls in the past 10 years due to risks of fire and electric shock. Check the Product Safety Australia website to confirm yours isn’t subject to a recall.
If your heater has a dust filter, clean it frequently as it reduces the risk of clogging, overheating and electrical fires.
Building and property safety
7. Watch out for mould growth
The winter months can cause an increase in conditions that encourage mould growth due to factors like greater rainfall, cold temperatures and the use of heaters and clothes driers.
“Heating a space can add moisture to the air, causing a temperature difference between inside and outside the room. Heat is lost through the walls and windows, making those surfaces cold enough for moist air to condensate,” Mr Abdoolakhan said.
To lessen the chance of mould growth in homes, particularly in smaller rooms, limit the amount of moisture produced by bathrooms and driers by regularly opening doors and windows, especially when using a drier.
“Other sources of moisture, like water leaks caused by external water entering the building or plumbing and waterproofing failures, should be repaired as soon as possible. Water ingress is more likely to occur in winter due to higher rainfall and winddriven rain during storms,” Mr Abdoolakhan said.
Building and Energy advises that people follow the Product Safety website as a guide on how to clean mould if it develops.
8. Pack away or tie down loose objects outside
Loose objects outside the home could become airborne in strong winds and should be packed away or tied down. These can hit overhead power lines and have the potential to cause power outages or fires.
Mr Abdoolakhan advises checking the strength of structures – like brick piers, walls, roofs, ceilings and beams – if they are being used to support an additional attachment.
“Items like shade-sails, hammocks, swings, hanging chairs and basketball hoops need to be connected to a structure that is suitable for the weight and load, especially during periods of heavy rainfall and strong winds. If in doubt, don’t risk it,” he said.
Refer to the Department of Fire and Emergency Services website for further safety instructions when preparing for a storm.
9. Clear vegetation from power lines
Serious fires, accidents and loss of electricity supply can occur when vegetation is not controlled or kept clear of overhead power lines.
Property owners are urged to check that the vegetation within their property boundary is clear from power lines.
If vegetation is within 2m of the overhead power line, do not attempt to clear it. A vegetation control worker certified to work near power lines must be contacted to deal with the matter.
“The best way to find a list of power line qualified vegetation control workers is on the Tree Guild WA website,” Mr Abdoolakhan said.
Building and Energy’s guidelines for the management of vegetation near power lines is a useful tool for land owners and occupiers to find out more information.
10. Call a network operator if you see a fallen or damaged power line
In the event of a fallen power line or vegetation across an overhead power line, call triple-zero (000) immediately and wait for the network operator to make the area safe.
To find further safety advice and instructions if this occurs, visit Western Power’s website.
For more information on these issues and other safety topics, see the Building and Energy website (via dmirs.wa.gov.au).
Media contact: BEMedia@dmirs.wa.gov.au