Carbon Monoxide incidents continue to blight the lives of hundreds of people each year in the UK. It’s a sad fact that many people are still unaware of the risk posed by carbon fuels, how to spot the symptoms of CO poisoning and what can be done to minimise the risks.
Elburton Heating LTD take this issue very seriously.
Safety incidents normally start with poorly installed appliances that are then subject to poor quality or a lack of servicing. These risk factors are set on a trajectory that can develop into a serious hazard without intervention. It is critical that qualified, experienced and competent gas technicians are hired to install, repair and service gas appliances.
You should always check and ask the technician for evidence of their qualifications before enlisting their services. Look on the back of the Gas Safe identification card and check for proof that the technician is licensed to work on the appliance you want them to.
Always be suspicious if the technician is objectionable at being asked for proof of licenses. A reputable individual will happily provide you with the information you require and will understand that you are simply carrying out correct due diligence.
If in doubt, you can either contact Gas Safe Register on 0800 408 5500 who will happily check the national database or go to www.gassaferegister.co.uk and select ‘check a business’. Type in the business Gas Safe Registration number and a list of appliance categories can be checked against the technicians license.
Carbon Monoxide alarm
One of the simplest actions homeowners / tenants can take to protect themselves is to ensure they have an audible carbon monoxide alarm fitted in their property, ideally in each room containing a carbon burning appliance such as boilers, fires, solid fuel burners and cookers. The alarm should be regularly tested, batteries changed on a regular basis and expiry dates checked. Most CO alarms expire every 7-10 years.
Elburton Heating LTD carry CO alarms on their vans. The alarms take a few minutes to install. Alarms cost £20 inc.VAT per alarm. Speak to Andy and he'll be happy to test your existing alarm or supply a new one.
For further information on carbon monoxide please read on: Source: Chief Medical Officer, department for health; re 15030
Carbon monoxide poisoning should be a problem of the past, but unfortunately, this is not so. A considerable number of people are still dying from accidental acute carbon monoxide poisoning and many more than previously realised are injured from sub-lethal poisonings, which can often lead to lasting neurological damage in victims. These victims are exposed to CO in their homes, but are also at risk from exposure in holiday residences, including caravans.
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas that causes the accidental deaths of approximately 50 people each year. Around 200 people each year in England and Wales are seriously injured by CO and new data suggests that a similar number of people are treated but not admitted to hospital each year from accidental poisoning by CO.
Poisoning by CO is almost certainly under-diagnosed and there could well be a large number of people being exposed and suffering the ill effects of exposure. Older people, children, pregnant women and their babies and those with breathing problems or cardiovascular disease are at increased risk.
Poisoning can result in lasting neurological damage.
How to diagnose carbon monoxide poisoning;
Recognising CO poisoning is not at all easy as it may simulate many other conditions: unless poisoning is suspected, the diagnosis will be missed.
The onset of symptoms is often insidious and may not be recognised by either the patient or the doctor. The commonest symptoms and signs and an indication of their approximate frequency in CO poisoning are shown below:
- Headache 90%
- Nausea and vomiting 50%
- Vertigo 50%
- Alteration in consciousness 30%
- Subjective weakness 20%
Whilst chronic exposure to lower CO concentrations may lead to the symptoms and signs of influenza or food poisoning, exposure to high concentrations of carbon monoxide leads to collapse and death within minutes.
Apparently classic cases of food poisoning of a whole family may be produced by carbon monoxide poisoning. Prolonged exposure to concentrations that produce only minor symptoms may, in some cases, be associated with lasting neurological effects. These include difficulties in concentrating and emotional lability.
Clues to the diagnosis;
The following are suggestive of domestic carbon monoxide poisoning:
- More than one person in the house affected
- Symptoms disappear when away from the house e.g. on holiday, or at work but recur on returning home
- Symptoms related to cooking: stove in use
- Symptoms worse in winter: heating in use
The following signs may be recognised in the home:
- Black sooty staining on or around an appliance (e.g. stoves, boilers and fires) such as on the walls
- Smoke or excessive condensation accumulating in rooms due to faulty flues: though you cannot smell carbon monoxide, you can often smell other combustion products
- Yellow or orange, instead of blue, flames from gas appliances or boiler pilot lights
Carbon monoxide is produced not just by malfunctioning or poorly flued gas appliances but by the incomplete combustion of all carbon-containing fuels: gas (domestic or bottled), coal, coke, oil, biofuel and wood. Stoves, fires and boilers, water heaters, paraffin heaters, and room heaters are all potential sources. Caravans, boats and mobile homes are also at risk as they often use portable appliances which use these fuels and exhaust gasses from vehicle engines and generators of electricity can also contain high levels of CO.
During incomplete combustion, carbon, hydrogen and available oxygen combine to form carbon dioxide, water, heat and CO. Any disruption of the burning process or shortage of oxygen can increase CO production and its accumulation to dangerous levels.
Inadequate installation or maintenance of fossil fuel and wood-burning appliances leading to poor combustion of fuel, inadequate removal of waste products because of blocked and partially blocked flues and chimneys, and insufficient ventilation, are the main causes of poisoning.
Such faults can occur in all types of property and the idea that carbon monoxide poisoning is restricted to poorer homes and student accommodation is false. Owner occupied houses with newly installed oil-powered cooking ranges can also be the site of accidents.
Carbon monoxide can also seep into properties via shared flues and chimneys and people may have been poisoned by carbon monoxide produced by an appliance in a neighbouring property. Dangerous errors, such as the venting of gas fires into cavity walls, can lead to poisoning of people living above those using the fire. Integral garages can also be a source of carbon monoxide if car engines are run without adequate ventilation.
For further information see HSE; Carbon monoxide: are you at risk (DoH)