Poisonings and injuries related to carbon monoxide exposure: data blog:

A summary of statistics highlighting unintentional poisonings and injuries related to carbon monoxide exposure.

  • Last updated: 2023-08-24

This data blog presents statistics on unintentional poisonings and injuries related to carbon monoxide (CO) exposures captured in the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP) between April 1, 2011 and June 15, 2023. CHIRPP is a sentinel surveillance system capturing injuries and poisonings presenting in 21 emergency departments across Canada. Every year, approximately 170,000 injury and poisoning records are entered in the database, from which information, such as the circumstances and types of injuries can be examined. This data blog then concludes by providing important prevention safety measures to reduce the risks of being exposed to CO.

What is carbon monoxide poisoning?

CO poisoning is a significant public health concern in Canada responsible for an estimated 300 deaths and 200 hospitalizations each yearFootnote 1. Considered as a leading cause of unintentional poisoning deaths in CanadaFootnote 2, CO is a poisonous gas that is undetectable by our senses because it has no smell, no colour and no taste; this makes it difficult to recognize its presence and emphasizes the importance of installing CO alarms in indoor spaces.

Characteristics of carbon monoxide:

  • No smell
  • No colour
  • No taste

How is carbon monoxide produced?

CO is produced when hydrocarbon fuels such as charcoal, wood, gasoline, natural gas or propane are burned incompletely. The poor maintenance, installation and ventilation of fuel burning appliances and equipment, such as fireplaces, gas ovens and generators can lead to the dangerous buildup of CO gas in indoor spaces, including kitchens, garages and living rooms.

Common sources of carbon monoxide includeFootnote 3:
  • Indoor cooking and household appliances (gas ranges, woodstoves, gas washers and dryers)
  • Outdoor appliances (barbecues, gas lamps, camping stoves)
  • Nonelectric combustion based heating systems (furnaces, gas water heaters, fuel burning space heaters, fireplaces)
  • Gas-powered tools (chain saws, compressors, lawn mowers, snowblowers)
  • Gas powered portable generators
  • Idling vehicles with combustion engines (car, motorcycle, ATV, snowmobile)
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Fire

Be aware of the symptoms of CO poisoningFootnote 4Footnote 5:

The early signs of mild to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu or food poisoning (except no fever), and some common symptoms include:

Higher levels of CO poisoning can, however, lead to worse and life-threatening symptoms, including:

Carbon monoxide-related cases in CHIRPP

As presented in Table 1, between April 1, 2011 and June 15, 2023, there were 767 unintentional CO-related events reported in the CHIRPP database, representing 42.6 cases per 100,000 CHIRPP records. Of these events, the mean age was 17.5 years; males represented 55.1% of cases (n = 423), and children aged 0 to 4 years represented the highest percentage among age groups at 24.3% (n = 184). Nearly two-third of cases (63.6%) occurred during the colder seasons of Canada: fall and winter. Work-related incidents involving CO exposure accounted for 10.6% of cases (n = 81). There were 150 incidents that resulted in two or more patients presenting in the emergency departments – these incidents involved 458 patients in total.

Table 1. Characteristics of carbon monoxide-related cases in CHIRPP, April 1, 2011 to June 15, 2023:
Table 1. Characteristics of carbon monoxide-related cases in CHIRPP, April 1, 2011 to June 15, 2023.
Characteristics Count Proportion (%)
Sex Male 423 55.1
Female 344 44.9
Age group (years)* 0 to 4 184 24.3
5 to 9 148 19.6
10 to 14 140 18.5
15 to 19 69 9.1
20 to 29 59 7.8
30 to 39 45 5.9
40 to 49 45 5.9
50+ 67 8.9
Season** Winter 296 38.6
Spring 192 25.0
Summer 96 12.5
Fall 183 23.9
Work-related incident Yes 81 10.6
No 686 89.4
* 10 cases had missing age.
** 3 cases had missing injury dates.

Emergency department presentations and outcomes

Among all cases, poisoning and asphyxia/threat to breathing were the most common emergency department presentations at 85.7% (n = 655). Of note, among 12.1% of cases (n = 93), no injuries or poisonings were detected following assessments at the emergency departments. In terms of outcomes, the majority of patients required observations and treatments in the emergency departments at 37.1% and 31.9%, respectively. Approximately 6.9% of patients were admitted to the hospital (Table 2).

Table 2. Characteristics of carbon monoxide-related emergency department presentation in CHIRPP, April 1, 2011 to June 15, 2023:
Table 2. Characteristics of carbon monoxide-related emergency department presentation in CHIRPP, April 1, 2011 to June 15, 2023.
Characteristics of emergency department presentation Count Proportion (%)
Type of injury/poisoning Poisoning 569 74.2
Asphyxia/threat to breathing 86 11.2
No injury detected 93 12.1
Other injuries 19 2.5
Treatment* Observation in emergency department 284 37.1
Treatment required at emergency department 244 31.9
Advice only provided 179 23.4
Admitted to hospital 50 6.5
Left without being seen 7 0.9
Death 2 0.3
* 1 case had missing information on treatment.

Source of carbon monoxide exposure

Where reported, vehicle emission, smoke/fire and barbecues were the most common sources of CO exposure reported, accounting for over one third of identified cases (Table 3).

Table 3. Carbon monoxide-related poisonings and injuries by source in CHIRPP, April 1, 2011 to June 15, 2023:
Table 3. Carbon monoxide-related poisonings and injuries by source in CHIRPP, April 1, 2011 to June 15, 2023.
Source Count Proportion (%)
Vehicle emission 108 14.1
Smoke/fire 101 13.2
Barbecue 58 7.6
Furnace 49  6.4
Machinery 36 4.7
Oven/stove 32 4.2
Unspecified gas leak 30 3.9
Fireplace/wood stove 19 2.5
Generator 19 2.5
Propane heater 13 1.7 
Propane source (other) 10 1.3 
Other 9 1.2
Not reported 283 36.9

Statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Program- Health Canada

From June 20, 2011, to February 28, 2023, the Consumer Product Safety Program received 49 reports involving unintentional CO poisoning. Among the 49 reports, 43 described events in Canada. These reports also noted 34 instances of reported fatalities and 15 reported injuries related to CO poisoning.

The top 3 product categories reported include:

Additionally, there are approximately 150 possible cases of CO poisoning reported from media sources. Due to limited information available in these reports, involvement of CO poisoning is suspected but could not be confirmed and location will vary.

Prevention: Reduce the risks of carbon monoxide exposure

CO poisoning is preventable. Below are some important safety measures that may help reduce the risks of being exposed to CO:

Safety characteristics and specific guidance that may help reduce the risks of being exposed to CO:
Safety item/characteristic Guidance and recommendations

Carbon monoxide alarms
Install CO alarms that are certified to meet Canadian safety standards on every level of your home, especially closer to sleeping areas. Be sure to test them regularly and replace the batteries as recommended by the manufacturer.

Fuel-burning appliances
Make sure all fuel-burning appliances are properly installed, maintained, and vented to the outside. Keep vents and chimneys clear of debris and snow, and never block them. Ventilation should not recycle air back into the room.

Maintenance of fuel-burning appliances
Maintain and inspect fuel-burning appliances including furnaces, boilers, water heaters, gas stoves and fireplaces by a qualified technician annually to ensure proper functioning.

Fuel-burning appliances and enclosed spaces
Never use a portable fuel-burning appliance, such as a camping stove, generator, or charcoal grill indoors or in an enclosed space, such as a garage, basement, tent or camper.

Motor vehicles and gas-powered equipment
Never run a motor vehicle or gas-powered equipment inside a garage attached to your house even if the garage door is left open.

Know the symptoms
Be attentive to possible symptoms of CO poisoning, particularly if multiple household members are experiencing similar symptoms.

Take Action: What to do if you suspect CO exposure

  1. Evacuate the property immediately and move to an area with fresh air.
  2. Call 9-1-1 without delay.
  3. Do not go back inside. Wait for the approval of emergency services responders before re-entering the premises.


The results presented above do not represent all CO-related injuries and poisonings in Canada. CHIRPP is a sentinel surveillance system that collects data from select emergency departments across Canada. Injuries involving Indigenous peoples including Inuit, Métis and First Nations and people who live in rural areas may be under-represented in the CHIRPP database, as most CHIRPP hospital sites are located in major cities. Fatal injuries are also under-represented in the CHIRPP database as the emergency department data do not capture deaths occurring before being taken to the hospital or after being admitted via another department. Information is continuously entered into the CHIRPP database; therefore, some years may not have complete data.

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