Carbon monoxide – the silent killer

Do you know the signs of deadly carbon monoxide? Watch this video to find out.

According to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England (November 2013), Accidental (and therefore preventable) carbon monoxide poisoning results in recorded cases of around 40 deaths and 200 hospitalisations each year in England & Wales. Recent figures from the Department of Health indicate that there are 4,000 attendances at accident and emergency departments for treatment for CO poisoning each year in England - which can often lead to lasting neurological damage.

Many more people are likely to suffer unknowingly from CO poisoning, and the impact on health may well be underestimated. Those most at risk are the under 14s and the over 65s, with these age groups accounting for 31% and 25% of these hospital admissions respectively. Many more people are likely to suffer unknowingly from CO poisoning, and the impact on health may well be underestimated.

Such cases are caused by faulty or badly-serviced gas and other fossil fuel-burning appliances and systems. Carbon monoxide (sometimes referred to by its chemical symbol CO) is known as the silent killer because you can’t see it, hear it, smell it or taste it. With a potentially cold winter ahead, there are concerns that there may be more deaths resulting from poorly-maintained heating systems.

Reduce the risk of being poisoned by the deadly gas carbon monoxide, with these simple tips:

Carbon monoxide can be given off by all fossil fuels. You need to look out for:

  • Boiler pilot light flames burning orange, instead of blue
  • Sooty stains on or near appliances
  • Excessive condensation in the room
  • Coal or wood fires that burn slowly or go out
  • Families suffering prolonged flu-like symptoms.

Take a few simple precautions to reduce your risk:

  • Have your gas appliances serviced annually by a gas engineer who is registered with Gas Safe Register
  • Use professionals to service any other fossil-fuel burning appliances such as oil or coal burning stoves annually
  • Fix carbon monoxide detectors in your home; these can be purchased from most DIY-type stores
  • Ensure that such detectors are maintained and replaced according to packaging instructions.

Tenants safer under new government measures

The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 have been approved by Parliament and came into force on 1 October 2015.

Private sector landlords are required to have at least one smoke alarm installed on every storey of their properties and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room containing a solid fuel burning appliance (eg a coal fire, wood burning stove). After that, the landlord must make sure the alarms are in working order at the start of each new tenancy.

The requirements will be enforced by local authorities who can impose a fine of up to £5,000 where a landlord fails to comply with a remedial notice.

A booklet providing information about the requirements and who they apply to is available at www.gov.uk/government/publications/smoke-and-carbon-monoxide-alarms-explanatory-booklet-for-landlords. It is designed as a Q&A to cover the most common situations but it cannot cover every scenario and is not a substitute for reading the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015

Other updates

Carbon monoxide and you - On August 3, 2010, Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson, both 18, died from carbon monoxide poisoning at a holiday flat in Castlerock, Co Derry. The families pf the teenagers kindly agreed to work with RoSPA to produce this short film, which contains their personal accounts of the tragedy.

In 2006 RoSPA and CORGI joined forces to produce five hard-hitting short films, which feature people who have lost relatives, or who have themselves been poisoned.

On April 1, 2009, the Gas Safe Register replaced CORGI as the scheme under which anyone carrying out domestic and commercial gas work must be registered in Great Britain and the Isle of Man. Visit: www.gassaferegister.co.uk. A film about the change in arrangements can be viewed on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyI-j8uGjks

APPCOG inquiry report

The All Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG) has released a report which aims to bring behavioural insights to poisoning prevention efforts. Carbon Monoxide: From Awareness to Action is the result of a major inquiry involving evidence from industry, charities, research institutions and individuals on how the problem of CO poisoning can be tackled effectively. RoSPA gave evidence to the inquiry highlighting learning from the Be Gas Safe programme which used local partnerships to promote CO awareness and demonstrated success in saving lives and increasing awareness of the key safety messages.

Among the Reports key findings are that:

  • Awareness-raising matters – but as a starting point of a much longer process of behaviour change,
  • Data matters – successfully influencing behaviour requires better data than are currently at our disposal,
  • Context matters – successful interventions need a sophisticated understanding of people's environment, and,
  • Messengers matter – using trusted messengers at the right times, and with the right approach, can bring results.

Preventing poisoning incidents through a behavioural approach will require focussed and coordinated efforts from a range of organisations, including charities, government, public sector workers and industry bodies. The report advocates departmental ownership within government as important to drive through and lead initiatives such as data gathering and campaigning to ensure the population is kept safe.

The report can be found at: www.policyconnect.org.uk/appcog/research/inquiry-behavioural-insights


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