Word on Health

Word On Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Our thanks to the Health and Safety Executive for their input to our radio report which you can hear via our radio player below.

According to statistics from the Department of Health  around 60 people die accidentally each year and thousands are hospitalised from CO poisoning caused by gas appliances and flues that have not been properly installed, maintained or that are poorly ventilated. Levels that do not kill can cause serious harm to your health if they are breathed in over a long period. 

In extreme cases, paralysis and brain damage can be caused as a result of prolonged exposure to CO. Increasing your understanding of the risks of CO poisoning and taking sensible precautions could dramatically reduce this risk. 

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless poisonous gas produced by incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels, including gas, oil, wood and coal. Carbon-based fuels are safe to use. It is only when the fuel does not burn properly that excess CO is produced, which is poisonous. When CO enters the body, it prevents the blood from bringing oxygen to cells, tissues, and organs and althought you can’t see, taste or smell it. CO can kill quickly without warning. 

How do I know if I am at risk from carbon monoxide? Signs that indicate incomplete combustion is occurring, resulting in the production of CO, include:

  • Yellow or orange rather than blue flames (apart from fuel effect fires or flueless appliances which display this colour flame)
  • Soot or yellow/brown staining around or on appliances
  • Pilot lights that frequently blow out
  • Increased condensation inside windows

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning? Early symptoms can copy many common ailments and may easily be confused with food poisoning, viral infections, flu or simple tiredness.  Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Tiredness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pains in the chest
  • Breathlessness
  • Stomach pains
  • Erratic behavior
  • Visual problems

If you or your family experience any of the above symptoms and you believe CO may be involved, you must seek urgent medical advice from either your GP or an accident and emergency department. You should ask for a blood or breath test to confirm the presence of CO. Be aware, CO quickly leaves the blood and tests may be inaccurate if taken more than four hours after exposure has ceased.

What should I do if I think my appliance is spilling carbon monoxide?  Switch off the appliance and do not reuse until remedial action has been taken. Shut off the gas supply at the meter control valve (if you know where it is). If gas continues to escape call National Grid on the Gas Emergency Freephone Number 0800 111 999.

Open all doors and windows to ventilate the room - do not sleep in it - contact a Gas Safe registered installer to make repairs. 

What preventative measures can I take against carbon monoxide exposure? 

  • Gas appliances and/or flues should be installed and serviced regularly for safety.
  • Ensure that any work carried out in relation to gas appliances in domestic or commercial premises is to be undertaken by a Gas Safe registered installer, competent in that area of work.
  • Always make sure there is enough fresh air in the room containing your gas appliance.
  • Get your chimney swept from top to bottom at least once a year by a qualified sweep.
  • If you have a wood or coal burning stove fitted, make sure it is fitted by a HETAS approved installer. Make sure your chimneys are swept twice a year
  • Always make sure there is enough fresh air in the room containing your gas, oil or solid fuel appliance. If you have a chimney or a flue, ensure it is not blocked up and also ensure that vents are not covered
  • Do not use appliances like paraffin heaters and cabinet heaters in your house
  • Never take a BBQ into a building or tent when it is still warm. When the embers have nearly died down, the BBQ will produce very large amounts of carbon monoxide!
  • Fit a carbon monoxide detector (They must however not be regarded as a substitute for proper installation and maintenance of your fuel burning appliances. REMEMBER low levels of carbon monoxide DON'T get picked up by all carbon monoxide alarms.".
  • If you have carbon monoxide detectors replace the batteries once a year and regularly test mains connected detectors. 

Carbon monoxide regulation varies throughout the UK for both the private and social housing sector.

Since the 1st of October 2015 anyone renting out a property in England has had to make sure that there is at least one working smoke alarm on every floor and a carbon monoxide detector in properties where solid fuel is burned in an effort to save lives. Click here for details.  (Many people assume they require them for gas as well – they don’t.  Although not required by law, the advice is still to have them as a responsible landlord.)

In light of th  e Grenfell tragedy the Scottish government has revised its legislation landlords and home owners. Click here for details.     

In Wales properties built since 1992 must be fitted with mains-powered, inter-linked smoke detectors/alarms but landlords would be advised to provide at least battery operated alarms in older properties.  There is also a legal requirement for a House in Multiple Occupation to have a mains wired alarm fitted in Wales

The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 201510 that came into force on 1 October 2015 in England do not apply in Wales. However, the Welsh Government plans to address this matter - new regulations are to be introduced to tackle the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning. The regulations will require landlords in Wales and their agents to install working carbon monoxide alarms, smoke alarms and undertake an electrical safety test at least every five years. (The time frame is not clear at this stage, but it would appear that it will be implemented as part of the introduction of Section 91 of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 and prior to the end of this Assembly term in 2021.

In Northern Ireland carbon monoxide alarms are a mandatory requirement for all new homes built in Northern Ireland after a change to The Building Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012. For more information on changes to the building regulations please click here. The Health and Safety Executive strongly recommends the use of audible Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms as a useful back-up precaution. They must, however, not be regarded as a substitute for proper installation and maintenance of your fuel burning appliances.

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.