Study Finds Consumer Uncertainty, Fear Drive Carbon Monoxide Risk Behaviors

Discounts, Tips May Decrease Carbon Monoxide Risk Behaviors, Reduce Deaths

carbon monoxide detector installed in a garage

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.— Consumers are unsure where to install carbon monoxide alarms and worry about costly inspections, according to a recent study by researchers at RTI International and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, published in the April issue of Injury Prevention, identified the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs that lead consumers to adopt risky behaviors when it comes to carbon monoxide poisoning, and described recommendations for promoting safe behavior among consumers. The study is based on a series of focus groups conducted by RTI researchers in 2009.

Unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning is a leading cause of poisoning death in the United States, causing more than 450 fatalities each year, many of which are caused by faulty furnaces.

According to the study, consumers are aware of carbon monoxide poisoning and support the idea of regular furnace inspections. However, few consumers consistently schedule professional inspections for fear of costly repairs and untrustworthy contractors.

The study also showed that although consumers often own carbon monoxide alarms, many do not position them correctly in their homes and do not properly maintain them. Many people also do not know how to react if a carbon monoxide alarm sounds.

"By identifying the factors that lead consumers to adopt risky behaviors regarding carbon monoxide, health professionals can educate consumers more effectively about carbon monoxide-related risks and promote protective behaviors," said Doug Rupert, a health communication scientist at RTI International and the lead author of the study.

According to the study, incentives, such as discounts and furnace inspector selection tips, may make consumers more likely to schedule furnace inspections.  Additionally, consumers are seeking trustworthy sources for education on carbon monoxide poisoning, such as realtors, firefighters and insurance agents.

"Correcting misperceptions, providing incentives and partnering with trustworthy sources might encourage greater consumer adoption of protective behaviors," Rupert said.

A podcast featuring two of the study’s authors can be found here.