Posts tagged ‘camping’

22 June, 2012

Be carbon monoxide aware when letting your hair down at summer festivals

Summer is finally here and with many young people preparing to soak up the atmosphere at a variety of music festivals over the next few months, now is the time to start thinking about camping safety.

carbon monoxide poisoning (CO) camping festivals

Campers have become tempted to take a barbecue or gas stove into tents, awnings, caravans and motorhomes in order to keep warm or to shelter from the rain. RoSPA advises people not to do this as the burning of fossil fuels gives off enough poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) to kill.

Tents are often pitched close together at festivals as space is highly sought after. Naturally the focus is on having fun, but does the same amount of effort get invested into thinking about safety as it does in deciding what to wear and which acts to see? Because when it comes to the poisonous gas carbon monoxide (CO), taking time out to plan ahead and understand the risks of burning fossil fuels could help save a life.

CO is called the “silent killer” because it is colourless and has no smell. It is poisonous because it blocks the ability of the blood to absorb oxygen. CO results from the burning of all fossil fuels – not just gas and it is given off most when things smoulder rather than burn fiercely. Smouldering barbecues, in particular, give off CO but are mainly safe to use when outside in a well ventilated space. But problems arise when campers become tempted to take a barbecue or gas stove into tents, awnings, caravans and motorhomes in order to keep warm or to shelter from the rain. RoSPA strongly advises people not to do this:

  • Warm, smouldering barbecues, as well as gas stoves give off enough CO to kill
  • Exposure to CO in small amounts leads to a variety of symptoms including headaches, sickness, dizziness and breathlessness, which means there is a real risk of a person collapsing and becoming unconscious
  • The symptoms, which can often be confused with flu or a hangover, tend to disappear as soon as you get outside into the fresh air when oxygen levels in the blood are restored.

We are aware of at least five deaths from suspected CO poisoning involving campers in the UK in the past year. One victim of suspected CO poisoning was as young as six. The most recent case involved a 14-year-old girl who was found dead inside a tent at a Shropshire campsite in May. She is reported to have died from suspected CO poisoning after inhaling fumes from a disposable barbecue placed inside her family’s tent. These tragic deaths are a cold reminder of the consequences of not being fully aware of the dangers of CO. Each year in England and Wales, there are approximately 50 accidental deaths, 200 non-fatal poisonings that require hospital admission and 4,000 visits to A&E that result from CO poisoning*.

barbecue camping CO poisoning carbon monoxide

CO is called the “silent killer” because it is colourless and has no smell. Warm, smouldering barbecues, in particular, give off CO but are mainly safe to use when outside in a well ventilated space.

Here are some top tips to consider when cooking outside:

  •  Always cook two to three metres away from your tent and remember that cooking outside is a very different experience to cooking in the home, so accidents can easily happen
  • By making sure the stove or barbecue you are intending to use is set up on a solid and level surface; you reduce the risk of it falling over and setting the ground alight
  • Once you have finished with your barbecue it should be put fully out and stored well away from your tent, caravan, awning or motorhome in a well ventilated area. If the barbecue is warm it still has the potential to give off poisonous fumes.

Also, before daylight fades and the party gets into full swing, spare a moment to think about any potential fire hazards which could give you a nasty surprise. It is particularly important not to use a barbecue inside a tent for heat as you run the risk of fire as well as poisoning. There may not always be a water supply nearby to put a fire out and with so many tents in such close proximity to one another, the fire could quickly spread. Even a fire-resistant tent may burn and smaller tents mean there is usually only one exit. Also, however big the temptation may be to use naked flames such as cigarette lighters to see where you are going, opt instead for a torch. Naked flames spell nothing but trouble when coming into contact with tents!

Ultimately, festivals are there to be enjoyed to the max and camping is all part of the fun. For some it might even be the start of a brand new experience, but how angry and upset would you be if you or a friend ended up with serious injuries as a result of CO poisoning? By familiarising yourself and your friends with this safety advice, you are already making great steps to help reduce the risk of having your holiday fun rudely interrupted by a silent killer. Knowledge is power, so why be ignorant to the dangers when you can be one step ahead of the game?

For further advice and information on camping safety, visit www.rospa.com/leisuresafety/adviceandinformation/leisuresafety/camping-safety.aspx.

For more information on CO poisoning, visit www.carbonmonoxidesafety.org.uk.

*Figures quoted by the Department of Health (www.dh.gov.uk/health/2011/11/co-poisoning/).

Want to find out more about the science behind why CO is poisonous? Visit RoSPA’s FAQs.

Jenny McWhirter, RoSPA’s risk education adviser

16 August, 2011

Time for education on carbon monoxide?

Tragically, another death due to suspected carbon monoxide poisoning has been reported in today’s news. There have been three cases in just a few weeks. In July a 30-year-old woman camping in Norfolk, and a 50-year-old man camping in the New Forest, died of CO suspected poisoning.

Although accidents like this are not common, they’re not unheard of – and this summer has, sadly, seen more than its fair share of tragedy.

The dangers of carbon monoxide are relatively well known when it comes to houses and holiday homes, with organisations such as RoSPA and the Gas Safe Register getting the message across that regular servicing and maintenance of gas appliances is vital for safety.

However, it seems that too few people are aware that any type of fossil fuel produces CO when it is burned incompletely – including gas stoves, wood stoves and barbecues. In an enclosed space like a tent, with little ventilation, using them for warmth is extremely dangerous.

We would recommend that people don’t cook inside tents at all if possible, largely due to the fire risk rather than that posed by CO; however, it is imperative that campers don’t take fuel-burning devices into tents for warmth overnight, when symptoms of CO poisoning will be masked by sleep.

RoSPA is particularly concerned about those who are new to camping, as everyday tasks carried out at home become a totally different kettle of fish in a tent.

Don’t underestimate how cold it can get, even in the summer! The ground sucks warmth out of you, so invest in a good all-season sleeping bag (or take your duvet!) as well as an airbed or roll-mat to insulate against the cold floor.

Take a look at our previous camping blog for more safety information, as well as general advice.

If you’re cold, and tempted to bring in a heat source from outside, think again – layer up.

Is it time to step up information campaigns about carbon monoxide for the next generation?

Vicky Fraser, RoSPA’s press officer/web editor

2 August, 2011

Carry on camping!

Holidaying in Britain is this year’s must-do if, like me, the recession (as well as the “summer” weather) has left you cold. For an inexpensive, fun-packed (no sarcasm here – I absolutely LOVE camping) staycation (I apologise for using that term) you can’t beat a good old camp.

Home from home

Our traditional British holiday pastime has experienced a resurgence in popularity in the last few years, with families, groups of friends and young couples all heading out into the wilderness to sleep under the stars.

Whatever your tastes and minimum luxury levels, there’s something for you. Holidays range from wild camping in the highlands of Scotland with naught but a tarp and a sleeping bag, through those of us who like a little comfort with our canvas, right down to “glamping” which appears to be the placement of a five-star hotel room in the middle of a field.

But wherever you are, and whatever form your accommodation takes, give a thought to safety – especially if you’re camping with kids. There’s plenty of advice on our new camping safety pages on the website, but here are a few hints and tips – especially useful for those who are new to the camping experience.

There’s loads of information for new campers on the Camping and Caravanning Club website too.

Camp cooking

The first thing to keep in mind is that cooking on a camp stove or an open fire (if you’re lucky enough to be camping somewhere that allows them) is vastly different from cooking in your own kitchen. For one thing, it takes longer. Much longer. So much longer that spam not only seems tasty, but actually is tasty! And although food cooked outside tastes a million times better, there’s a chance that hunger (and perhaps a tipple or two) will make for clumsy hands.

To cook, you need fire, and fire can be a real risk when you’re camping, particularly if you’re staying in a tent. Make sure you check the rules regarding open fires and barbecues at your campsite; some will not allow them at all and others will restrict them to designated areas. Practise using your stove before you go on your trip – and make sure the stove or barbecue is sited on a solid surface to reduce the risk of it falling over.

Some tents are designed with cooking areas; but most aren’t, and cooking inside tents isn’t recommended. Apart from the fact that you can get lots of condensation inside your tent, even a fire-resistant tent may burn. Investing in a tarpaulin is a good idea – they provide shelter from the elements, and mean you won’t be tempted to cook inside your tent.

Use torches, rather than naked flames, for illumination inside tents. And be particularly mindful of the risk of fire inside smaller tents with only one exit (I’m paranoid – a sharp knife could be a lifesaver in a burning tent with only one way out). Do you have a plan for if a fire gets out of control? Make sure you know where you can get water.

It’s always tempting to leave barbecues smouldering away overnight; however, it makes for a more easy sleep if you dampen down any fires and make sure barbecues and stoves are out completely before going to bed.

Packed and ready for a loch-side holiday

Lakes and rivers are stunning locations for camping, but keep in mind that they can pose a danger when you’re deciding where to pitch your tent. If you’ve got small children, you don’t want them rushing out of the tent in the morning and straight off the banks – camping away from the water’s edge is probably best. And if you’re in Scotland, the concentration of midges is slightly lower away from the water…

On a more serious note, one risk that is probably unknown to most campers (particularly first-timers) is that of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Most of us know about the risks posed by carbon monoxide in houses; but it can also be a serious threat while on holiday.

The burning of all fossil fuels produces CO and there have been deaths and serious injuries from CO poisoning in tents and caravans, including two incidents in which this is suspected this summer. Do not use stoves or disposable barbecues (for cooking or warmth) in an enclosed space with poor ventilation. If you have a decent sleeping bag, warm clothes and a camping hat (an essential camping item), you shouldn’t need to take anything that burns fuel into your tent for warmth.

Caravanners should have gas-powered appliances serviced annually, much like you would at home, and should consider using an audible carbon monoxide alarm inside their caravan as a last line of defence.

Many serious accidents involving young children on holiday, including drowning, happen on either the first or last day when there are lots of distractions, so ensure that the supervision of young children doesn’t break down during these busy times. If a child wanders off, check water sites such as ponds, lakes and swimming pools first.

Pop-up tent packing fail

A word to the wise: if you’ve never pitched your tent before, it’s a good idea to have a go before you actually go. Honestly. Especially if you’ve got a pop-up tent. They look great; they go up so easily; but if you haven’t practised, you will have a row and provide at least an hour’s entertainment for the rest of the campsite as you attempt to put your tent back down again. We whiled away a happy couple of hours in Wales at Easter observing the end of a family holiday. There were tears, and strong liquor was consumed by the hapless couple…

Finally, you’ll need the gear! Whether you’re a minimalist, a traditionalist, a happy camper or a glamper, GearWeAre will have reviewed something you need or – more likely – want. They’re a fully independent review site, and break things so that you don’t have to.

So, you’ve got the knowhow, the perfect site, and all the gear you need – get out there and enjoy the great outdoors. Take advantage of the fact that there are no city lights, and look at our magnificent Universe. And while you’re doing all that – stay happy and safe!

As you read this, I shall be up in the far northwest of Scotland near Achmelvich, enjoying the best of British summer time and attempting to avoid falling over things. At the time of writing, I was desperately hoping that an Ark wouldn’t be required…

Vicky Fraser, RoSPA’s press officer/web editor

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