There are two broad themes for the 2021–2022 installment of the ENGINEERING A SAFER WORLD Competition:

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

CO poisoning (unintentional, non-fire related). Submissions can address any topic related to this broad theme, with the end-objective being to reduce CO poisoning.

Open Theme

Open theme: teams can identify and address a meaningful accident or injury prevention problem in their community. This provides broad flexibility to the teams as the definition of the safety problem becomes part of the submission.

The competition aims to bring more awareness to first theme, to set a safety problem-solving agenda, and to incentivize participation by college students that they may become agents of change for safety improvements in this area. It is hoped that the entries will help accelerate the development and adoption of accident prevention solutions. The open theme is equally important for the organizers of this competition, and it is based on the recognition that some teams may be familiar with a particular accident pattern or persistent injury problem in a community, and they care about bringing more awareness to it, investigating it, and making advances toward solving it. The competition provides an opportunity for such an undertaking.

Participants in this safety competition can focus on any aspect of CO poisoning or population at-risk. The end-objective of a submission should be to contribute toward a reduction in the incidence of CO poisoning through, for example, more effective design, monitoring, detection, education, or targeted messaging / communication, or a combination of these different elements. An understanding of the accident patterns as well as risk factors and behaviors (e.g., why are generators or charcoal grills placed indoors) is important to inform and justify the choices made in the portfolio of prevention solutions proposed.


It is estimated that over 400 deaths and 20,000 emergency department visits occur annually in the U.S. due to unintentional, non-fire related CO poisoning. These numbers likely underestimate the scale of this public health problem given that CO poisoning is often underdiagnosed because of the non-specificity of its effects (e.g., dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting). CO is an odorless, tasteless, and imperceptible gas to the human senses. Individuals can be severely or fatally poisoned before even realizing that they have been exposed.

Some known aspects of this problem include the following:

  • CO poisoning can occur in homes, sheds, recreational vehicles (RV), boats, and other places.
  • Engine-driven tools such as generators, lawn mowers, and fuel-burning products such as furnaces, charcoal grills, and fireplaces produce and can cause CO poisoning.
  • Although CO poisoning occurs throughout the year, there is a seasonal peak during winter and following hurricanes and snowstorms.
  • Portable generators are a leading cause of CO poisoning and have excessive CO emission rates.
  • The majority of CO poisoning incidents due to generators are attributed to indoor placement of the equipment.
  • CO poisoning from generators often follows power outages due to weather conditions, but also following electricity turnoff by power company due to bill dispute or nonpayment. Other reasons include providing power to a storage shed, boat, cabin, or a new home before the power is turned on.
  • CO alarm usage in poisoning cases is not reliably known, but in the majority of known cases, no CO alarm was present.
  • The majority of deaths tend to be male and over the age of 25, whereas the majority of nonfatal cases tend to be women and children.
  • Excessive CO poisoning is found among minorities and immigrants.
  • First responders play an important role in community outreach, and it is generally found that they can be better supported and educated about the dangers of CO poisoning.

Additional information can be found at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Carbon Monoxide Poisoning pages, at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Carbon Monoxide Information Center, and the references therein.