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How do I prevent…?

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is sometimes called “the silent killer” – and for good reason. You can’t smell it, see it or taste it, and yet a leak – from a faulty boiler, fire, gas cooker or wood burner, for example – can be deadly. Not only for young children, but for all the family.

Thankfully, these types of accidents don’t have to happen. There are plenty of steps you can take to ensure you and your family are safe – at home, or on holiday.


Gas and solid fuel appliances that have been incorrectly fitted, badly repaired or poorly maintained can produce carbon monoxide, a colourless, odourless gas that can cause brain damage, or even death. If flues, chimneys or vents are blocked the likelihood of carbon monoxide poisoning is much greater.

Other than physical symptoms (see the next section), things to look out for include pilot lights that burn orange instead of blue, sooty stains on or near appliances, excessive condensation in the room, or coal or wood fires that burn slowly or go out.

Even if you don’t spot any of these signs, there are steps you should take to make sure your appliances are working as they should be:

  • Have your gas appliances serviced annually by a gas engineer who is registered with the Gas Safe Register. If you live in rented accommodation, your landlord has a legal duty to make sure this happens. If they don’t or won’t do it, you can use this form to report them to the HSE
  • Alarm Use professionals to service any other appliances such as oil or coal burning stoves every year
  • Fit audible carbon monoxide alarms in your home (Which? has a free guide explaining how to install a carbon monoxide alarm properly)
  • Ensure alarms are maintained and replaced according to packaging instructions.
CO symptoms are similar to those of flu or food poisoning, which is why people mistake them for something else. The main symptoms to look out for are:


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

Remember, if your symptoms only occur when you’re at home and then disappear when you go out, or if other people in your household suffer from similar symptoms, this could be a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning and you need to act fast.

If your carbon monoxide alarm sounds, or if you suspect you have a leak, you need to act fast:

  • Get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows, turn off gas appliances and leave the house
  • See your doctor immediately or go to hospital – let them know that you suspect CO poisoning. They can do a blood or breath test to check
  • If you think there is an immediate danger, call the Gas Emergency Helpline on 0800 111 999
  • Ask a Gas Safe registered engineer to inspect your gas appliances and flues to see if there is a fault.

While your home may be safe, there is a risk you might be exposed to carbon monoxide when you are on holiday, staying in a cottage, villa, caravan or hotel room either in the UK or abroad.

If your accommodation burns solid fuel it should have a carbon monoxide detector fitted.

RoSPA would like all homes and holiday lets to have carbon monoxide detectors fitted as standard.

If you’re camping, it’s important to remember that barbecues and gas heaters are also a source of carbon monoxide. Here are some things to remember:


  • Never bring a barbecue inside your tent or an enclosed space, even if it’s raining
  • Once you have finished with your barbecue, ensure that it is fully out. Store it well away from your tent, caravan, awning or motorhome in a well-ventilated area. If the barbecue is still warm it has the potential to give off poisonous fumes
  • Remember, if you suspect you have been exposed to carbon monoxide, act fast.
    Get out of your tent and seek fresh air immediately, before following the steps above.
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