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Avoid Injury Around Barbecue Grills

The act of flipping a row of sizzling burgers on a barbecue grill is one of summer's simple pleasures. But there is danger lurking in those glowing embers, and the potential damage is far worse than a few charred cheeseburgers.

Because barbecue grills are operated in a casual, relaxed atmosphere, they tend to be taken for granted. And that can lead to serious injury, even death.

Each year, Americans go to the emergency room because of injuries from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by charcoal grills, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). When you burn charcoal, carbon monoxide (CO) is produced. CO is a colorless, odorless gas that can be fatal in closed areas.

The CPSC offers these safety tips when using a charcoal grill:

  • Never burn charcoal inside your home, or inside vehicles, tents or campers. Charcoal should never be used indoors, even if you have ventilation.

  • Because charcoal produces CO until the charcoal is completely extinguished, never store a grill indoors with coals you have just burned.

  • Never use gasoline when starting a charcoal fire. Gasoline will explode. Use only approved charcoal lighter fluid.

  • Cap the starter fluid immediately after using it and store it a safe distance from the grill.

Another common mistake: not using enough starter fluid initially, then risking a fire or explosion by adding more fluid to the hot coals.

If you dump the coals out of the grill when they are still warm, make sure to keep children away from them. Stepping on hot coals can cause a severe burn, especially in youngsters.

Gas grill safety

Gas or liquid petroleum (LP) grills also carry a risk because the LP gas or propane is extremely flammable, the CPSC says. Fires and explosions from LP gas grills are the main cause of injury.

The agency says that most of these fires and explosions occur when a person uses a grill that has not been used for a while, or just after refilling and reattaching the gas container on the grill.

The agency offers these tips for safe use of gas or LP grills:

  • Always check for leaks every time you disconnect or reconnect the regulator to the LP tank. If you find a leak, immediately turn off the gas at the tank and don't attempt to light the grill until the leak is fixed. Until it is repaired, keep lighted cigarettes, matches or open flames away from it.

  • Check the valve connections and hoses to be sure they are in good working order. The hoses should have no cracks, holes, or leaks. Make sure there are no sharp bends in the hose or tubing.

  • Check the tubes that lead into the burner for any blockage from insects, spiders, or food grease. Use a pipe cleaner or wire to clear blockage and push it through to the main part of the burner.

  • Replace scratched or nicked connectors, which can eventually leak gas.

  • Never attempt to repair the tank valve or the appliance yourself. See an LP gas dealer or a qualified appliance repair person.

  • Never use a grill indoors. Use the grill at least 10 feet away from any building. Do not use the grill in a garage, carport, porch, or under a surface that can catch fire.

  • Move gas hoses as far away as possible from hot surfaces and dripping hot grease. If you can't move the hoses, install a heat shield to protect them.

  • Never start a gas grill with the cover closed.

  • If the burner doesn't light, turn off the gas and try it again in about five minutes.

  • When not in use, the LP tank valve must be turned to OFF. The tanks should always be stored in an upright position and in a place where the temperature will never reach 125 degrees Fahreinheit or 52 degrees Celsius.

  • When the LP tank is connected, the grill must be stored outdoors in a well-ventilated area.

  • Never store a spare gas container under or near the grill. Never store a full container indoors. Never store or use flammable liquids, such as gasoline, near the grill.

  • Never keep a filled fuel container in a hot car or car trunk. Heat will cause the gas pressure to increase, causing the relief valve to open and allowing gas to escape.

  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions that accompany the grill.

Lighting up: How to sizzle in safety

1. Pour the charcoal into the bottom of the grill and pile it into a pyramid shape.

2. Pour commercially prepared starter fluid over the coals. One-half to one cup usually is enough.

3. Let the starter fluid soak in for one minute before lighting.

4. Use tongs to disperse the coals into one layer after they are ready. It usually takes 30 minutes after lighting the coals to get the coating of gray ash that indicates they are ready.

Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Haines, Cynthia, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/4/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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