Carbon Monoxide Can Kill – Our Safety Checklist to Protect Your Family

carbon monoxide detector on wall

Carbon monoxide is one of the leading causes of home poisoning deaths in the world. Our safety checklist comprehensively covers how you can massively reduce the risks that will take lives this year.

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What are the highest risks for carbon monoxide poisoning?

The highest risks are from:

  • Gas fires being not being serviced properly
  • The blocking of vents if they are needed to provide oxygen to the fire
  • Carbon monoxide seeping in through adjoining properties that have faulty appliances

We suffer from cold weather and windy conditions in this country, but the vents in a house exist for good reason. It is not acceptable cover up the air vent due to a draught, especially if there are open flue gas appliances in the premises.

The third highest risk is rather alarming. It may be the case that in your mind, your family home does not need a CO alarm, but if a leak from a faulty appliance in your neighbours home affected you, how would you detect It before it got too late?

Do I have a legal obligation to fit carbon monoxide (CO) alarms?

Not in all cases. It is a legal obligation to fit one if the home has a solid fuel burning appliance e.g. a log burner.

If I’ve had a new boiler installed, should I fit a CO alarm?

If it’s a new combination boiler - which are all sealed units - then risks with carbon monoxide poisoning should be non-existent. The situation where a new combi boiler could cause CO issues is if the engineer attending to the fitting or repair of the boiler did not replace the seals properly.

I’ve read that in the future, installing a CO alarm will be mandatory.

At time of writing, it is only a legal requirement to install a CO alarm in a room containing a solid fuel appliance. The government have been consulting on extending this requirement to all rented properties.

A campaign group calling itself Project Shout is involved in lobbying the government to make the installation of a CO alarm mandatory in all properties.

A consultation took place last year, running from November 2017 to January 2018 and the relevant Government departments are analysing the feedback. As time of writing, no decisions have yet been made, which means mandatory regulations have not been drafted.

What is the recommendation by the Health and Safety Executive?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides guidance for regular inspection and servicing. In their guidance, this is the best way to ensure safety.

The most common cause of carbon monoxide poisoning and related incidents is due to a lack of inspection and servicing, coupled with old appliances that predominantly have an open flue.

Furthermore, the HSE states that 1 in 20 incidents investigated indicate the source of the CO to be from a neighbouring property.

Why are older gas appliances problematic?

Older appliances such as boilers tend have an open flue. This is up to 10 times more likely to be the source of a poisoning incident than modern room sealed appliances. Defunct back boilers and warm air units are hazardous and need to be decommissioned at the earliest opportunity in our opinion.

It should be noted that an old boiler is not necessarily a problem. A boiler that is 10 to 15 years old has nothing to do with how much CO it produces. In fact older appliances that are non-condensing rarely produce more than 3 or 4 parts per million of CO (when operating correctly) whereas condensing boilers produce, on average, 150 parts per million of CO (when operating correctly).

Is everyone aware of the risks posed by carbon monoxide?

As an owner occupier of a property, we need to check the gas appliances. Many do get their boilers checked and serviced but older appliances can sometimes get overlooked e.g. open flue gas fires which are decades old.

A project funded by HSE states:

  • CO awareness was poor with 45% having received no information about the dangers of CO
  • Only 3% of the sample group had heard of the Priority Service Register scheme - free appliance checks for pensioners and other eligible persons
  • that the proportion of the general population unaware of CO risks and the PSR may be even higher than 45% and 97%

The HSE report linked above concludes that:

2% of all homes were assessed to have a “very high” risk, and a further 4% were estimated as having a “high” risk of exposure to concentrations of CO above WHO guideline levels.

Particularly vulnerable are the elderly and those on the lowest incomes that may be more concerned about heating bills over winter. A report by National Energy Action (NEA) found that households suffering in cold homes are also at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning.

What are the Symptoms of CO Poisoning?

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting

Vomiting and serious confusion are the tell tale signs that things are very serious. From here, loss of consciousness can occur. Ultimately, heart and brain failure can lead to death.