How to Avoid Cold Weather Injuries and Illness

The arctic air of January has hit Massachusetts and families around the state are working to stay warm, safe and avoid injury. It’s essential this time of year to be informed and make plans for your home heating system, water pipes and going outdoors. The Boston personal injury lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck offer these tips:

Oil Heat Systems

  • If you heat your home with oil, have a qualified oil heat service technician inspect and clean your system annually to remove soot build-up and ensure safe operation.
  • Avoid replacing or repairing parts of your furnace or oil heating tank yourself. This could cause personal injury and damage your home. Contact a professional.
  • Ask your oil company about Automatic Delivery to avoid disrupting your heating service. The company will use a computerized system that signal when tank volumes are low.

Space Heaters

  • One in every seven space heater fires in the past five years has resulted in a death, according to the Massachusetts State Fire Marshal’s office. If you use a space heater, be safe. Keep the space heater three feet from any person, pet or flammable material.
  • Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off if you are going to sleep.

Wood-burning Stoves

  • Clean ashes from your wood-burning stove in between use to avoid clogging the vents. Avoid injury by disposing ashes in a metal container away from your home.
  • Keep three feet away from wood-burning stoves to avoid burn injuries.
  • Only burn wood in your wood-burning stove. Never burn household garbage, cardboard, plastics, foam or other materials.

Protecting Your Water Pipes

  • To keep pipes from freezing, wrap them in insulation, such as newspapers with plastic to keep out the moisture.
  • Allow a small amount of warm water to trickle from a faucet near pipes you are concerned will burst. This allows the water to keep moving so it cannot freeze.
  • Learn how to shut off your water valve if it bursts.
  • Purchase a freeze alarm for your pipes. These can be purchased online for less than $100.

Keeping Safe Outdoors in the Cold

  • Minimize time outdoors, especially for the elderly and young children.
  • Dress in layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing rather than a single-layer of thick clothing. Cover all areas with mittens, hats and scarves. Try to wear water repellent fabrics.
  • Hypothermia only occurs in extreme cases, but watch out for signs of shivering, memory loss, disorientation and exhaustion. If these symptoms are present or the person’s body temperature drops below 95 degrees, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Also watch out for frostbite. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a pale appearance in the fingers, toes, the tip of the nose and other areas. Seek medical attention immediately for these symptoms.

Click for more safety tips on other home heating devices from the Boston personal injury lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck.

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Think Space Heater Safety

As the cold weather makes its return to Massachusetts, many people are bringing out the portable space heaters.

Always practice caution when using space heaters. Each year, space heaters cause death, injury and substantial property damage in both Massachusetts and across the country.

In 2007, U.S. fire departments responded to 66,400 home structure fires that involved heating equipment, according to the National Fire Protection Association. These fires killed 580 people, injured another 1,850, and were responsible for $608 million in direct property damage.

In Massachusetts, there were 57 space heater fires between 2004 and 2008, according to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. One in every six space heater fires caused a fatality.

The leading cause of space heater fires is when the appliance gets too close to combustible materials, such as furniture, carpeting or bedding. Other space heaters are also defective, improperly made and should never have been sold to consumers.

If you are using a space heater this winter:

  • Keep the space heater at least three feet away from flammable items, such as rugs, curtains, blankets or clothing.
  • Use a space heater to supplement your furnace. A space heater should not be your primary source of heat. If you are worried about having your heat shut off, learn more about the state’s Utility Shutoff Protection program.
  • Do not leave a space heater in a room unattended while it is turned on or plugged in.
  • Take caution not to use a space heater when you are sleepy. Many fires happen when someone falls asleep near a space heater.
  • Do not allow small children near a space heater.
  • Do not use an extension cord with your space heater. Many space heater fires start when an extension cord ignites a carpet, rug or wood floor. If an extension cord is needed, use one that is new and rated by the Underwriters Laboratory at 16-gauge or thicker.
  • Purchase a space heater with an automatic shut off. This will stop the device from working if tipped over.
  • Inspect your space heater for cracks and broken parts. If you see a problem, replace it before using.

For more information on space heater safety, visit the National Fire Protection Association’s website. We also urge you to check regularly to see if your space heater has been recalled. You can search for your model on the recall section of the Consumer Product Safety Commission website. If you don’t find anything, try a simple Google search. Space heaters are regularly recalled, as are other devices. Manufacturers make design mistakes, or errors are made somewhere along distribution. Other times products are marketed incorrectly. Even if you register products with the company, you really have to be proactive and search for product recalls yourself to protect your family. We should not have to check; manufacturers have a responsibility to fully test products before making them available to consumers. Because this does not always happen, it’s important to check for space heater recalls on your own.

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