Protect yourself from carbon monoxide

We're supporting Carbon Monoxide Awareness Month throughout November 2013. To find out more visit

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a highly poisonous gas that has no smell, colour or taste.

CO can be released by any appliance that burns oil, solid fuel, wood or gas, including boilers, if they are not properly installed and maintained.

When you inhale Carbon Monoxide it starves your body of oxygen. The symptoms can feel like other every day illnesses, such as:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • breathlessness
  • dizziness
  • collapse
  • loss of consciousness

Even low-level exposure over a long period can cause lasting damage to your health, including permanent brain damage. More serious cases can cause death.

Do not ignore these symptoms if:

  • other people in your home or building are having similar symptoms
  • you've recently moved into your home
  • symptoms disappear when you go out or go on holiday, but return when you come back
  • symptoms tend to be seasonal, for example headaches during the winter when the central heating is used more often

Other danger signs include:

  • sooting or staining on or around the appliance
  • excessive condensation in the room where the appliance is installed
  • lazy yellow/orange coloured gas flames on cookers or boilers, rather than a sharp blue one

How can I protect myself?

If you suspect carbon monoxide is present follow the advice of the safety checklist - TASK.

  • Turn off or extinguish the heating source/appliance (if safe to do so)
  • Air – ventilate your home by opening windows and doors, stay outside in the fresh air
  • Seek medical help if you feel unwell
  • Keep all heating sources/appliances off until serviced (or chimney/flues cleaned) by a qualified professional

Remember, all boilers and fuel-burning appliances MUST be serviced annually using a qualified engineer registered with an appropriate organisation, such as:

Gas Safe Register (gas)

OFTEC (oil)

Northern Ireland Association of Chimney Sweeps (all fuels)

Northern Ireland Coal Advisory Service (solid fuel)

As a secondary precaution, you can install an audible Carbon Monoxide alarm. You can buy one from DIY stores or supermarkets from around £20.

CO alarms should comply with BS EN 50291 and carry a British/European approval mark (follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation and maintenance guidance).

Remember, while carbon monoxide alarms can help alert you to the dangers if this poisonous gas escapes they must NEVER be regarded as a substitute for the proper installation, maintenance, servicing and cleaning of appliances that burn oil, solid fuel, wood or gas.

What should I do if I'm affected?

  • open doors and windows for ventilation and go outside into the fresh air
  • go to your GP or nearest A&E department
  • if it is urgent, call 999 for an ambulance
  • call the relevant emergency advice line: Gas Emergency Service (24 hours) 0800 002 001 Oil (OFTEC) 0845 658 5080.

For more information please visit the HSENI's "Watch Out. Carbon Monoxide Kills" website: or call the HSENI helpline on: 0800 0320 121.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Month

We’re supporting Carbon Monoxide Awareness Month throughout November 2013. To find out more visit

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