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Vanessa joins Master Plumbers Radio to discuss the death of he young sons Chase and Tyler to Carbon Monoxide poisoning and her quest to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Daniel: Welcome to Master Plumber’s Radio, today I’m joined by Vanessa Robinson, Founder and Executive Director of The Chase and Tyler Foundation, a not for profit organization set up in memory of her sons Chase, eight, and Tyler, six. Vanessa, thanks for joining me on Master’s Plumber’s Radio. Can you tell me a little bit about the foundation and the role that you play?
Vanessa: Absolutely. Thank you for having me here today. So I established The Chase and Tyler Foundation, after my children, Chase and Tyler, were killed my carbon monoxide in 2010. So this was called by a faulty gas heater which spilled carbon monoxide into the premises, so my children died and I was also severely injured and was in hospital for near two months, suffering from rhabdomyolysis, renal failure and a few other things to name a few, and have still quite a few disabilities due to this, such as memory damage as well as severe nerve damage in my left arm and shoulder.
Daniel: So, you set up the foundation shortly after, or?
Vanessa: I did. I was in hospital and took a little bit to sort of comprehend exactly what happened because I was in a coma for a little bit and obviously quite unwell. And then when I was fully advised about how my children died, I was completely astonished, shocked, obviously traumatized because I just couldn’t comprehend how something that I’ve used for my entire duration of my life and I had no conception that this indeed was dangerous. I always had the understanding that there could be a potential explosion from gas, but never had I heard of carbon monoxide poisoning, except for in the movies where people have intentionally caused harm to themselves.
Vanessa: I wanted to take action right there and then, and I knew that I just couldn’t sit back and watch this happen to other people, so as soon as I was well I end up being discharged and I contacted my local member, Dr. Sharman Stone, who I stipulated that we needed to make sure that this never happens again and to legislate mandatory carbon monoxide appliances in all homes as well as mandatory servicing in government and rental houses, as well as address the gas safety policy across Australia.
Vanessa: So that essentially went to Parliament, received bipartisan support, where that created the gas safety strategy. A big process went into that, with the outcome of each state regulator having to conduct awareness campaigns throughout Australia. So that was essentially the build on what has become a really successful campaign these days. But not long after that, I also contacted Energy Safe Victoria and essentially said the same thing as what I said to Dr. Sharman Stone, that we need to conduct a campaign and are they willing to join forces with me. So they immediately jumped on board and we created our first TV commercial, which was carbon monoxide the silent killer, where I was in this video, along with my ex-husband. It was really, I suppose, emotional video where it engaged our community members and they could obviously see and identify that this is a risk in their homes and to take action about servicing gas heaters.
Daniel: Yeah, ’cause I could understand at that time, there would have been little to no knowledge for the community on what actually carbon monoxide poisoning or what carbon monoxide was and how it can affect people. How long between the incident at your house and setting up the charity? What was the time difference there?
Vanessa: I think I was discharged from hospital, perhaps, oh gosh, I’ve got a terrible memory, part of the issues of carbon monoxide, potentially around July I’m guessing in 2010, I could be a little bit off. I pretty much, before the end of 2010 I had made contact with Sharman Stone as well as Energy Safe Victoria and in late 2010, early 2011, I initiated a Facebook page, which was to create carbon monoxide awareness throughout our communities. So it was a nice cheap, free resource that I could manage.
Daniel: Being involved in a charity myself, it’s one of the greatest way to get in touch with people that you do want to be involved in your quest, I guess.
Vanessa: Absolutely, it was a fantastic way to engage people and create that awareness. Especially when, it was just myself doing it at this point and I had absolutely no money. We had some really successful, I suppose engagements with community members who had no idea and who were thanking us essentially, or myself at that point, for raising this awareness. So it was the end of 2011 is when we officially initiated The Chase and Tyler Foundation.
Daniel: Fantastic. So originally, you went about this on your own? It would have been a pretty daunting challenge I guess and a bit of an experience in itself, going out and fighting for what you knew had to be done. Was it easy to get people to help you in doing what you wanted to do?
Vanessa: I think people were certainly onboard in relation to what I wanted to initiate and especially in relation to the story. It was really difficult, I suppose, setting up a charity when you had no experience whatsoever, no knowledge of the not for profit sector and what it requires. I mean, I was just somebody that worked in finance and I had a couple of kids, but I sort of lived inside a bubble essentially, just looking after my family. It was a very steep learning process and-
Daniel: A lot of Googling?
Vanessa: Oh gosh, Google is certainly my friend.
Daniel: We’ve used that [crosstalk 00:06:44] as well.
Vanessa: So a lot of online learning, a lot of research conducted online. And so that was amazing, I don’t know where I would be without Google. Probably unemployed. But the thing was that, well, I sent off a lot of emails to people and said that, this is what I want to do. This is why I want to create the charity and it’s goals and purposes. And certainly people from that were very interested in wanting to make a difference as well.
Daniel: Oh, it’s great to hear that.
Vanessa: So people from the industry really engaged as well as, I managed to get a lawyer and an accountant and all relevant people from industries that I needed.
Daniel: Very handy people to have on your team.
Vanessa: Very much so. Very much so. We essentially were a very small charity and still are today and when we talk about our board and the governance of our organization. We have certainly come really far from our very-
Daniel: Humble beginnings?
Vanessa: Humble beginnings in 2011.
Daniel: Well, you got to start somewhere, that’s what, yeah, I think you’ve done a very good job to date, and it’s still early. There’s a lot of benefit to come out of what you’re doing. I think it’s a very noble quest. So tell us a little bit about the role you play in the foundation.
Vanessa: Yeah, sure. So my role is an Executive Director on The Chase and Tyler Foundation. So I wear two hats. I sit on the board of directors, so I have a governance role where we look after the oversight of the organization. So looking at strategy, finance, et cetera. And then I wear my operational hat, where I’m essentially involved in nearly every aspect of the charity from marketing and communication to partnerships, to finances, to fundraising, so everything mostly, website development, everything you see that’s generally happened, I’ve been doubling behind the scenes, so don’t hold it against me.
Daniel: No, everything I’ve seen in my research for our chat today is been very, very professionally run charity. It’s interesting, a lot of people probably wouldn’t realize that there is a vast variety of how charities are set up in Australia. You’ve got some that have got a lot of money behind them and are run by people who are paid, and there are the charities at the other end of the scale that are run on the goodwill of people giving their time voluntarily. You may not realize that they’re struggling financially or just doing what they can to get by. We had a little bit of a chat before we press record today and one of the things I did say is that Australians in particular seem to have a good idea of when there is a good cause to get behind and I feel very proud in that people do understand when someone comes up to you with a hat and says okay, we’re doing this for a charity, do you want to get involved? It is good across Australia that people are willing to put their hand in their pocket and say okay, I think what you’re doing is great and I want to get behind it.
Vanessa: Absolutely. In relation to volunteers, we’re all volunteer-run, so that’s all our directors on the board and our volunteers that help with the operations. We essentially, on our board level, state that we run by the smell of an oily rag, so we don’t have any funds particularly, but we’ve done some really successful things. I suppose we have a lot to appreciate for our community members really jumping on board and wanting to volunteer for organizations, because essentially without them, a lot of not for profit organizations would not be to operate, so.
Daniel: So you’re always looking for volunteer help?
Vanessa: Always looking for volunteers.
Daniel: So what can people out there listening today, what can they do if they’re interested in getting involved?
Vanessa: They can head over to our website or contact us. So it’s www.chaseandtyler, C H A S E and T Y L E R .org.au or they can send an email to [email protected] They can essentially just ask if we have any volunteer roles, which we certainly do and we would contact you to discuss that further.
Daniel: For those people out there listening, those volunteers it’s not necessarily limited to getting out there and doing lots of stuff. You can be a volunteer by helping spread the message as well, so getting on your social channels and liking all the pages, I guess you’re on Facebook?
Vanessa: We are. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and everything else [crosstalk 00:11:49].
Daniel: Fantastic. Get out there and hit the like button and whenever there’s information that you think is relevant to your circles of followers and friends, make sure you share it out as well. Let’s talk a little bit about carbon monoxide. Many people out there are probably unaware of what it is and what it can do. I’m guessing we’d be in the same boat prior to your accident. There’s pride of starting in plumbing, which was just recently. I didn’t really know what it was, so can you sort of share, you’ve probably done a little bit of research since on what it is?
Vanessa: Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas which interferes with the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. So this results in rapid damage to the heart and brain from oxygen starvation. So a lot of people are at risk, well all people are at risk really from carbon monoxide poisoning, and it also includes animals as well. Certain particular groups, such as pregnant women, unborn babies, children, the elderly people and people with chronic heart, anemia or respiratory problems are more susceptible to it’s effects. So what essentially the big problem is with carbon monoxide poisoning, that especially during the winter period, it’s very similar to flu-like symptoms. So we’re looking at headaches, nausea, dizziness, burning eyes, confusion, drowsiness and even loss of consciousness. In very severe cases, it obviously causes brain damage and death.
Vanessa: But what we have other the winter period is that there’s a lot of misdiagnosis. I’m personally suspecting that we’ve had hundreds of thousands of carbon monoxide poisoning cases in Australia. But, especially given the consideration of our very unsafe gas appliances in our homes and that we really haven’t identified all of them as yet, so what happens is that these people that are potentially getting sick, that they’re misdiagnosed. So they’re either misdiagnosing themselves, thinking that they’ve got a cold or they’re unwell or they’ve been working two jobs, et cetera. Or they’re presented to, whether it’s the emergency department or their GP, and have been advised the same and have been told to then go home, keep warm and rest up, which we all know that’s essentially a spiral in the winter periods, because what do we do when we’re sick?
Daniel: Crank up the heater.
Vanessa: That’s right, we either crank up the heater. We’re either on the couch or in bed.
Daniel: Spread out the wooly blanket on the couch and put on Netflix or whatever and just rest it off.
Vanessa: Absolutely. That’s right. So we’re in fact exposing ourselves to this danger even more so. So I think that’s what we all need to take into consideration over the winter period is that, are you suffering these type of symptoms? Is anybody else suffering these type of symptoms? Do they get better when you’re actually away from your home or over the summer period when you’re not using these gas or fuel-burning appliances, so it’s always good to have it in the back of the mind of, it could potentially be carbon monoxide, as part of our home safety checklist that we should be adding to the list by now.
Daniel: Yeah, okay. So coming up to the cooler months of the year, there is going to be a lot of people turning to those appliance in their home, whether it be to cook or to keep themselves warm. Do you have recommendations for people that are concerned about what could possibly happen?
Vanessa: Absolutely. We conduct our carbon monoxide awareness week, which is coming up shortly on the 29th of April to the 6th of May, I should know these dates by heart.
Daniel: That’s okay, get our your calendars and put that one in.
Vanessa: Get out your calendar, make sure. So our carbon monoxide awareness week is essentially just enforcing the message back to consumers to make sure you service your gas and fuel burning appliances every one to two years. Make sure you do this before you turn on your appliance. Let’s try and do it before the winter period, because anybody that has had their appliances serviced over the winter period, everybody tries to do it because it’s the last minute action where, oh it’s suddenly cold, oh I haven’t had my gas heater serviced so I’ll call the gasfitter or a plumber, and then they’ll inundated with all these calls so there potentially could be a little bit of a wait.
Vanessa: So try to get in a little bit earlier, as in now, if you can, because not only will you able to get it a service pretty quickly, that you might be able to be offered some discounts in relation to that. It’s always a good idea to look at getting your gas appliances serviced in the off season, because number one, it’s certainly going to be cheaper and you’re not doing it last minute, so you’re not potentially turning on your gas appliance because it’s cold, but in turn it could be dangerous and causing health impacts to you and your family. Certainly a number one priority is about servicing gas and fuel burning appliances.
Daniel: Yeah, so get it done ASAP so you’re not, just like we do in summer, go to turn on the air conditioner, realize there’s something wrong with it, call out the air conditioner mechanic and then realize he’s responding to 50 other people who are in the same boat. So who would you need to contact to get your glass appliance serviced?
Vanessa: So we’re looking for our Type A gasfitters, so they could come under a header of a gasfitter or a plumber. Sometimes I think that confuses consumers into who to select, but they need to have type A gas appliance servicing on the back of their license. So these people qualified and licensed to actually go into service your gas appliance, your gas heater especially. They’ve conducted the training with Master Plumbers, Energy Safe Victoria, and Victorian Building Association, so they’re aware of how to conduct carbon monoxide spilling tests as well as the full, complete process when servicing your appliances, which now includes certainly negative pressure testing. These are very important, not to just get any Joe Blo. These forums or websites not where we can get people to do very cheap service, but these people obviously may not be licensed or registered. In fact, when you’re utilizing people who are unqualified, is a risk to your life. So this is why it’s fundamental to ensure you’re getting somebody who is appropriately skilled in this area. So type A, licensed gas heater.
Daniel: On the topic of carbon monoxide, in my research for this interview I also noticed that it’s not just inside your home. People still have to mindful with camping, boating and even in their workplace.
Vanessa: Absolutely. So essentially you are at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning if you have any gas or fuel burning appliance in a confined space. Again, it comes back to how carbon monoxide impacts, so it’s all to do with the air within the building or the dwelling that you’re in.
Daniel: Operating in confined spaces, I’m just thinking about the camping that would be operating a stove with all of the windows zipped down.
Vanessa: Exactly, and also when you’re camping you’re looking at generators and the placement where you’re camping. So making sure that it’s really far back away from your tents, never bringing any gas or fuel burning appliance inside your tent as well as the open fire. That there’s adequate distance between the fire or any gas and fuel burning appliance and any dwelling or something where it will be enclosed and you’re going to be sitting or sleeping in there, because very dangerous and we’ve had deaths in Australia. You may not hear about these, but in relation to say work related incidents, we have had a few. We had a cab driver in Melbourne who died in 2013, and this was due to a faulty exhaust. Not many people probably hear about it, because they always hear our campaign about the gas heaters, but The Chase and Tyler Foundation advocate for the awareness, raising and education of all types of incidents that can occur.
Vanessa: That’s, as you specified, that’s work, camping, caravanning, boating, a lot of different ways you could be exposed. The boating, we’ve had a few deaths in relation to those two men in Tasmania that died. They used a portable power generator in 2016 with their cruiser, so they died form carbon monoxide poisoning. We also had Nicholas Banfield, who went sailing in Sydney with his girlfriend, that was only about six months later, and he was killed and his girlfriend was taken to hospital with acute carbon monoxide poisoning.
Daniel: So just using a gas burning appliance in a confined space.
Vanessa: Yeah, absolutely. So Nicholas used a gas stove top and the other gentleman used the portable power generator. So when we’re looking at camping, we’ve had two people that died, it was Derek and Helena in 2015 and that was from a wood chip fire being brought into a converted shipping container, so that was quite a horrific death in New South Whales and in July 2017, we had a man that was also found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning which was caused by a small bottled gas butane heater that he used inside his tent.
Daniel: And just thinking, that could even be becoming very common to do outdoor entertaining and I’m thinking about barbecuing and the big gas heaters-
Vanessa: With your patio blinds, and-
Daniel: I know a lot of people using it in confined spaces, it gets cold, you zip down your patio blinds or even if you’re operating in your garage, if you’re getting out of the rain, I suppose that could have a very similar effect as well?
Vanessa: Oh, huge impact. Oh, gosh, I remember a friend telling me years ago, it was after the boys died, that she actually held a party and it was in her outdoor space. They had patio heaters in there and they did not have adequate ventilation and she said the entire party was sick and they felt like they were nauseous and sick and they had headaches. It wasn’t until a little bit later that they realized it was from the patio heater and carbon monoxide poisoning. So it would be so common because we are moving to our outdoor areas now, and we want to expand our homes and make sure we’ve got that lovely outdoor entertainment area, but we’re not really thinking about our appliances that we’re using, we’re assuming that’s an outdoor space and those are fine to use, but in fact it’s not. It’s always thinking about the appliances in your home and outside the home and making sure you’re not potentially putting yourself in danger.
Daniel: For sure. The inquest into the death of 62 year old Sonia Sofianopoulos, who died from carbon monoxide poisoning in the Greensborough unit in July 2017, recommended that hundreds of thousands of potentially deadly heaters across Australia should be banned and gasfitters forced to complete up-to-date carbon monoxide training. While this is a big step in the right direction, what else can we be doing to stop this from happening again?
Vanessa: Look, in relation to Sonia, it was very frustrating for me to hear about this happening in public housing. I had a meeting with the Housing Minister, gosh, I think it was in 2013, about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and I wanted to be advised about the servicing regime to ensure that their tenants were going to be safe from carbon monoxide poisoning. Unfortunately, during this conversation, the Minister was certainly aware of the dangers, but I received the old political spin of blaming the other party and that they were going to conduct how many appliances or gas appliances were in these particular properties and then they were going to service or initiate a service regime. Unfortunately, we heard the same old story back when Sonia died. There was nothing implemented and then they used the recommendation to stipulate that they’re now going to start servicing.
Vanessa: So I think it’s just really difficult to see that people have to die before A, there’s a recommendation made and that’s essentially going to be elected if they choose to follow that. So it’s sort of a little bit of a brushing the incidence underneath the carpet in relation to Department of Housing for myself, but I think that we, in Australia, we should be proactive and not reactive, which I feel that we can be in a lot of times and we really don’t want to put our money where are mouths are when it comes to safety. This is the biggest thing, human life is certainly what we need to ensure there’s no impacts on.When we’re looking at loss of life, but not only loss of life, those impacted by carbon monoxide poisoning have huge detrimental impacts to their health for the rest of their lives.
Vanessa: We’re looking at costs analysis, which the government always does, then this is a huge financial burden. I suppose, in relation to the recommendations, the banning of the open flue gas appliances is certainly fantastic initiative. But I feel that, obviously this is a long term plan, that we are going to have a lot of vulnerable people who are financially disadvantaged or those in rental properties or government housing that are going to still have these old appliances.
Vanessa: We need to have a two-pronged approach essentially to ensure that consumers are safe in whole. The banning of open-flu appliances is certainly a step, and we certainly need to look at legislating for mandatory appliance servicing in our rental government housing. I’ve been talking about this for years and nothing’s been completed and essentially if this was conducted in Sonia’s home and if we had appropriate training for the gasfitter, I don’t know whether this gasfitter was fully qualified that [inaudible 00:27:13] Sonia’s home or not, but she might be here today if that was initiated and conducted correctly. Let’s talk about legislation in all of these rental properties and government housing, that would be amazing. We also should be looking at making sure that we’re constantly putting in the professional development for gasfitters and plumbers, ensuring that they’re skilled in this area and obviously this is going to look after the public health in the long term.
Vanessa: The servicing of type A appliance standards should definitely be adopted, so this is prevalent for our gasfitting community to be able to do their job correctly when it comes to servicing these gas appliances. So I believe there’s a bit of a wait at the moment trying to get this adopted. That is fundamental for consumers because this essential is going to lead in for our gasfitters and plumbers doing the job correctly in our home and then obviously, I believe that there should be a development of an Australian standard for carbon monoxide alarms. Currently, the government’s now talking about utilizing carbon monoxide alarms, which we’ve certainly advocated for in the past as a secondary measure. Not as a first measure certainly. We do have a lot of cheap alarms from China at the moment, so what we want to do is make sure we have good quality carbon monoxide alarms and put information out there for consumers.
Daniel: Fantastic. Many of the appliances, like the one responsible for the death of your sons, found in public housing and rental properties. What advise do you have for the people who find themselves in that position? What actions can they take to keep their homes and their families safe?
Vanessa: We essentially have the Residential Tenancy Act, which requires that the landlord has to ensure the premises are maintained in good repair, so this is inclusive all gas and electrical appliances. There’s also the recommendation from Energy Safe Victoria and REIV that the gas appliances should be serviced at least every two years. I think that the first step would be, certainly contacting your landlord or agent and asking, and I would send an email, which is actual written evidence. Contact them and ask when the gas service was last conducted on your appliance. And if indeed, if it was longer than two years, put a request immediately in for that to be serviced. Don’t use it. I know it’s a little bit hard, or probably easy for me to say don’t use it, but don’t use the gas heater until this has been serviced because essentially with a lot of unsafe gas appliances out there at the moment, especially when we’re talking about open flued gas appliances, that you really just don’t want to take that risk, so make sure you have that service before use.
Vanessa: Indeed, make sure that when your gasfitter has come to service your appliance, Ask them to ensure that you have adequate ventilation in your home to run that gas appliance. Your gasfitter’s going to do a lot of strange things that you probably don’t understand, which is closing off doors and windows and obviously running all your extraction plans. He or she might go into various rooms of your house, so it could be your toilet to run your extraction plan, it could be your kitchen to run your extraction fan and any other ones in the home, because essentially what they want to do is test for negative pressure. You want to ensure the gasfitter that you have actually got him going to your home, he’s doing the appropriate checks and making sure that your house is safe when you’re using that gas appliance. That’s really important and then they’ve obviously got to a carbon monoxide test, obviously, at the end of the appliance service.
Vanessa: That’s not just coming to your home and waving a CO analyser in front of your gas heater, there’s a lot more to it, so if you see anybody doing that, give your landlord or your real estate agent a call and say, look, I suspect that this isn’t being done properly. I would also probably ask your landlord to see if they could pop in a carbon monoxide alarm. So putting in a request, it’s not going to hurt anybody, but if not, if they’re not willing to do that you can go to any DIY store such as Bunnings and you can purchase a good audible carbon monoxide alarm yourself. It’s a good mechanism but there are a few other steps as well that you could certainly take.
Daniel: Yeah, so going on your last point about waving around around a tester. Part of my job here is to monitor social media and pick up on what the community’s concerned about in relation to plumbing and other things, and I recently saw a post for a community noticeboard of someone asking for a recommendation of someone to come out and test for carbon monoxide in their home and one of the first responses on that thread was somebody suggesting to go out to Bunnings and buy a tester to do it yourself. Number one, it’s cheaper, number two, you get this whizzbang tester to keep for yourself later. I’m going to assume that that’s a bad idea.
Vanessa: That’s quite concerning that their suggestion … We’ve had a big issue within the industry and we’ve addressed this. So part of the organization, we do a lot of things, but we also address issues within the industry. We’ve got a couple of amazing gasfitters, plumbers on our board and so our problem we had at one stage and continues to be actually, is that we had any Tom, Dick and Harry that has purchased their dandy $50 analyzer, wherever they’ve done this and these people may not be qualified as well and they come around just do an inspection test, so similar I ‘spose to these people doing alarm tests for your smoke alarms, but now they’ll come in, they’ll run an analyzer past your heater and say, “That’s okay, no problem, thank you, that’s $150.” Or they might then, depending on if they sell appliance, who knows, selling you an appliance on top of that.
Vanessa: The problem is, when we’re talking about carbon monoxide analyzers and testing in the home is that there can be bigger problems behind the scene. Indeed this appliance may not be spilling carbon monoxide outside, into the room, but it could have severe issues behind the scenes, so in the flue. So your appliance needs to be pulled apart and a full appliance service needs to be conducted. If anyone’s just doing that random test, then there’s a bit of a concern. If people are going out and buying an analyzer for your personal use, there’s big problems in the industry, we can allow that to happen.
Daniel: I guess it’s similar to giving someone a guitar and telling them to go our onstage and play with a band. It’s good to have the thing in your hand, but you’ve got to know how to use it effectively to get any benefit from it I guess.
Vanessa: Yes, the only unfortunate part is that people can die in this scenario and there’s a difference between gas analyzers and carbon monoxide alarms. Carbon monoxide alarms are for consumers, so they appear to look like smoke alarms and analyzers are for gasfitters and plumbers, so they’re professional pieces of equipment but they have to be calibrated every twelve months, so these specialists know how to use these equipment appropriately and they know the process to conduct when they’re utilizing these testing equipment. So don’t do that.
Daniel: So it’s always good to make sure you’ve got a professional that knows what they’re doing. They’ve got the right tools and they also know what’s happening. So in relation to what you’re saying before with the spillage is effected by the different extraction fans you’ve got in your house, when a gas appliance is operating effectively, it’s drawing whatever carbon monoxide is being produced, and drawing that out and pushing it to the outside of the house. If you turned on an extraction fan or if you’re cooking and you have an extraction fan operating above your stove top, that could affect the pressure and start drawing, even if it is just minimal amounts, drawing that carbon monoxide back into the house, which is why you need a qualified and trained professional to be able to conduct those variations in environment and make make when they leave the house, they’re confident, that regardless of whatever fans that have turned on in the house, that all the carbon monoxide and whatever else is being drawn to the outside.
Vanessa: Absolutely, and I think it’s really important to consider, when you’re adding pieces of or appliances to your home, that yes, Bunnings stock everything, but the piece of appliance you’re adding to your home, is it essentially going to have ramifications with something else in your house? And that’s where we’re looking at a lot of these extraction fans where, a lot of them are essentially sometimes commercial types where they’re just essentially impacting a lot of gas heaters. This is the issue when they found with the open flue gas heaters, the use of extraction fans has huge implications and has been found to spill carbon monoxide in homes, so make sure you think about these appliance that you’re utilizing or installing in your home, then have a professional have a look at it, don’t just do it yourself.
Daniel: So if you’ve got a gas appliance operating your home and you get it tested, it might be fine then but as soon as you get some change in the environment in that room, even if it’s a matter of getting an extraction fan replaced or fitted somewhere in your house, it’s a good idea to go out and get the appliance tested again because the environment around that appliance has then been changed.
Vanessa: Correct. So the big thing is with us trying to ensure that we’re keeping in the warmth of our homes, and we’re talking double glazing and people are closing up ventilation, whereas this is back in the olden days, we had ventilation in our home and it was drafty and we were generally cold a lot, but we had blankets. But I ‘spose a lot of times when we did use these appliances, that’s probably what saved our lives because homes were drafty. We’ve got an example where one of my lovely board members, he went and serviced somebody’s home, found the appliance had no problems whatsoever.
Vanessa: He went back, I believe, maybe twelve months later and the gas appliance was spilling huge amounts of carbon monoxide so the gentleman that received the service, he was like, well why has this happened? You just came twelve months ago. And the gasfitter was thinking, well this is really strange, I don’t know what it was. So having a further discussion with this homeowner, he found that the homeowner double glazed the windows, so that had a really big impact on the gas heater. So it’s these simple acts and closing up the ventilation can cause spillage from your appliance. So it’s a really important message to go back to the community.
Daniel: Always something to consider, whenever you’re doing anything to your house, think about how it can effect all the other things that are already operating. Carbon Monoxide Awareness week is an initiative started by your foundation and it’s coming up soon, in fact it’s April 29 through May 5th, you may have mentioned that earlier. How did that come about? What are you going to be doing and what can the community do to help?
Vanessa: Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week came about because we needed to engage community members, businesses, gasfitters, governments to sort of heed the winter and make sure we’re pushing out safety messages to communities. So Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week was a really great initiative which we launched in 2013. We developed a toolkit which we send via email to a variety of different partners and then we essentially ask for people to get involved, so we predominantly do social media campaigns, which is really good. We do face-to-face campaigns, we might do a launch, depending, we might have an energy minister around or doing some type of initiative.
Vanessa: But really, what are asking community members to engage in is a lot of our social media awareness. Sharing the posts that are online or downloading the toolkit, or just having the simple conversation with your family or friends or neighbor, and just say that it’s Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week and have you had your gas appliance serviced lately and do you know much about carbon monoxide? Sometimes it’s those simple, easy conversations that can save somebody’s life. We can’t do things by ourselves, we’re a very small charity and we’ve got some great supporters, such as Master Plumbers and Energy Safe Victoria. Victorian Building Authority, so we do Kids Safe Victoria, we do a lot of great initiatives, but we can’t do it by ourselves. Everybody’s got a part to play in home safety. Essentially help spread the awareness and let’s try and get some great safety messages going before the winter period.
Daniel: Fantastic. I think what you’re doing with the foundation is absolutely amazing. You’re to be commended for your bravery on taking on such a great challenge. What can people do moving forward? Is it just a matter of keeping tabs of the website and the social media channels? ‘Cause I guess what you’re looking for is advocates to help you spread your message.
Vanessa: Absolutely, well I probably should give you some insight into what we do.
Vanessa: The Chase and Tyler Foundation, as we spoke before, was founded in 2011 as a National Nonprofit Organization with DGR status, which is deductible gift recipient, for those who don’t know.
Daniel: So that means if you’re donating money, you can claim it on tax?
Vanessa: Yes, that’s correct. So we’re dedicated to the prevention of illness, injury and death from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, and this is conducted through awareness, education, support services, advocacy and research. So how we do that is we provide education awareness on gas and fuel burning appliance safety and accidental carbon monoxide prevention. We provide clinical education for clinicians on diagnosing accidental carbon monoxide and aftercare. We’ve had a published article in the medical journal of Australia which was very exciting, from our past board member Dr. Barbara Robertson, so she’s now an advisor on the board. We work with regulators in industry, addressing current issues impacting the industry and advocating for continual up skilling and education of our gasfitters and plumbers. We also address any issues impacting consumers as well that we feel that need to be, certainly addressed and something to be done about it as soon as possible. So we’ve got some great relationships and they’re fantastic in actually listening to our issues and addressing them. So we’re also doing statistical research across Australia on carbon monoxide poisoning, accidental carbon monoxide poisoning and energy poverty, which I’ll speak about energy poverty in a moment.
Vanessa: Within Australia, we had very little data and statistics. So we have a little bit here and there in some states, but Australia as a whole, not particularly that great. The foundation is actually conducting our own research at the moment. We’ve got a great team of volunteers who are doing this, so hopefully soon we’ll have really good, valuable data and we can see how many people who are presenting to GPs, emergency departments, how many people who have been misdiagnosed who have died, and a variety of different ways that they have passed away or been exposed to carbon monoxide, which would be really helpful with our campaigns. Also we provide services to community members, and these are community members that are impacted by energy poverty.
Vanessa: So energy poverty is essential somebody or disadvantaged people that are struggling in relation to affording any heating services or cooling services I suppose in summer, but essentially where it comes to, with carbon monoxide poisoning is that we’ve seen a radical increase in carbon monoxide exposure with any fuel burning appliances, especially outdoors, being brought inside. So these people who are suffering financial disadvantage, they can’t afford their gas or electrical services over the winter period, so what we see is they are bringing in their barbecues, their charcoal briquettes, their patio heaters, their generators, they use the stove tops, they use gas ovens, anything that can essentially heat their home and we’ve had so many people die across Australia from this, not to mention the thousands that are continually being sick or injured. It’s really sad to see that when somebody who has to go this far when they don’t have the money afford basic heating, so in our little way that we’re trying to provide a provision of services back to these community members, so because we essentially have no money, we are providing carbon monoxide alarms and we’re providing blankets and educational resources to community members at the moment.
Vanessa: We’re working a project for this year and essentially as we build the organization, we have a little more funds, then we’ll be able to provide, hopefully gas appliance servicing, services for those who are impacted by carbon monoxide, so that’d be medical treatment and also some housing support if indeed their house is found unsafe. I know for myself, after the accident, I had no resources whatsoever. I was injured at my rental home. When I was discharged from hospital, I couldn’t even walk properly. I had to go back and live at my mom’s house. Certainly couldn’t live at that rental place anymore anyway given what happened.
Vanessa: But I had to go back to work a few months after being discharged and I was so sick and I was on a lot of pain medication and I still had my arm in a sling and I really don’t know how I’d done it whatsoever, but there was no financial supports there for me whatsoever, ’cause it wasn’t transport accident, it wasn’t a workplace injury, so I was really stuck in that regard. That’s why I think it’s really important for those who have some financial protection, who have been impacted by carbon monoxide, at least they can provide some clinical, financial money to provide some clinical assistance in relation to, you know, because there’s huge impacts for short and long term exposure to carbon monoxide, especially [inaudible 00:48:10], so a lot of specialists are required. If we can help in any little way, that’s certainly what we’re looking to do.
Daniel: That’s fantastic. As I said before, you’re to be commended on your bravery in taking on such a huge challenge, so I wish you well with everything and all the best. Thanks for joining us.
Vanessa: Thank you for having me.