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CO Alarms – The Basics

Carbon Monoxide has been part of a Gas Safe Awareness campaign in the news recently as “the silent killer” but what exactly is it and what can you do for your customers?

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas produced when burning fossil fuels such as gas, oil, wood and coal.

Normally most of the CO is burnt off but if the fuel does not burn properly excess CO is produced.

CO has no smell or taste and cannot be seen but it is poisonous as when it enters the body (through breathing it in) it prevents your blood from getting oxygen to your cells tissues and organs.

Although it is a killer even in low levels that do not kill it can cause serious harm to health when breathed in over a long period of time.

Long term effects of exposure to carbon monoxide include Paralysis and brain damage however even short term inhalation include –

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

Carbon monoxide symptoms are very similar to flu, food poisoning, viral infections and simply tiredness which is why it is common for many people to mistake CO poisoning for something else.

What can you do for your Customers?

Gas Safe and the Health and Safety Executive both advise 2 steps your customers should take to reduce the risk of CO poisoning –

1. Making sure that fossil fuel burning appliances (and flues) are regularly checked by competent engineers which should be you.

2. And secondly fitting a CO alarm near the appliance and/or flue.

Side Note – In Northern Ireland fitting a CO alarm is mandatory however in England and Wales the 2010 Building Regulations Part J states carbon monoxide alarms need only be fitted in the same room as new or replacement solid-fuel heating appliances.

What is a CO Alarm?E CO ALARM

A CO alarm is similar to a smoke alarm except that it alerts you to the presence of carbon monoxide (a smoke alarm will alert you to smoke and NOT carbon monoxide).

They are small battery operated units normally with a guarantee of 5 years which are mounted or sit near a gas appliance.

Unlike the cheaper “black spot” cards they sound an alarm when they detect carbon monoxide and only need to be periodically checked to make sure the battery is still operating, just like a smoke alarm.

However, a carbon monoxide alarm is no substitute for correct installation and servicing of gas appliances.

What alarm should I fit?

Gas Safe Register recommends the use of audible carbon monoxide alarms. It should be marked to EN 50291 and also have the British Standards’ Kitemark or another European approval organisation’s mark on it.

We supply the leading brands such as Honeywell XC70 or Fire Angel which are both rated at and above the relevant standards.

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Where should the Co alarm be fitted?

The recommendation is to fit an alarm in each room with a gas appliance.

And to always follow the alarm manufacturer’s instructions on siting, testing and replacing the alarm.

It is important to choose an alarm that will wake your customers up if they’re asleep, or they may not be aware of early CO symptoms until it is too late.

Is there anything I can do now that might indicate potential problems?

There are signs that you can look out for  that you can ask your customers that could point to carbon monoxide poisoning –

  • Their symptoms only occur when you are at home
  • Their symptoms disappear or get better when they leave home and come back when they return
  • Others in their household are experiencing symptoms (including your pets) and they appear at a similar time

What can I advise to my customers if they experience any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

  • 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 carbon monoxide poisoning. They can do a blood or breath test to check.
  • If they think there is immediate danger, call the Gas Emergency Helpline.

And most importantly –

Get you to inspect their gas appliances and flues to see if there is a dangerous problem.



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