What is it?
Carbon Monoxide (also known as CO) is a poisonous gas produced by incomplete burning of carbon based fuels such as gas, oil, wood and coal. It is particularly dangerous as it is colourless, odourless and tasteless so most people exposed to this gas are not aware of the risk they are being exposed to.
Even in low levels, CO is dangerous and can cause serious harm to health if breathed over a long time. In some cases paralysis and brain damage can be the result of long periods of exposure however, even short exposure to sufficient quantities of gas can quickly lead to unconsciousness and in extreme cases, death.
Below are the reported instances related to Gas Safety as provided by HSE (RIDGAS):
|Number of incidents (b)||Explosion/fire||22||31||27||21||33|
|Carbon monoxide poisoning||115||147||172||196||219|
|Number of fatalities||Explosion/fire||2||2||2||1||3|
|Carbon monoxide poisoning||10||13||15||9||14|
|Number of non-fatalities||Explosion/fire||27||37||30||27||44|
|Carbon monoxide poisoning||184||191||289||292||343|
Statistics from HSE statistics RIDGAS
|(a)||Mainly piped gas but also includes bottled LPG|
|(b)||An incident can cause more than one fatality or injury|
Possible symptoms of CO Poisoning*
Some of the early symptoms of CO poisoning can appear to be other common ailments and may be confused with viral infections, food poisoning, flu or even tiredness.
Some of the symptoms to look out for include –
- headaches or dizziness
- loss of consciousness
- pains in the chest or stomach
- erratic behaviour
- visual problems
How is Carbon Monoxide made?
“CO is produced by incomplete burning of carbon based fuels”. This means that your gas boiler, wood or coal fire, gas fire, cooker or even camp stove will create CO in various quantities but some common examples of incomplete burning are –
- Yellow or orange rather than blue flames. *
- Soot or yellow/brown staining around or on appliances
- Pilot lights that frequently blow out
- Increased condensation inside windows
- Burning wood or coal (without adequate ventilation)
* Except fuel effect fires or flueless appliances which display this colour flame
Why would my appliance create CO?
All new appliances designed and tested to high standards such as CE Mark and Kitemark so they will be safe to use as long as they have been correctly installed and in most cases maintained.
Problems may arise if –
- The item has been incorrectly or badly fitted.
- Not properly maintained (always have your appliance serviced by a registered engineer following the guidelines provided by the manufacturer).
- If flues, chimneys or vents become blocked (either by usage, disrepair, vegetation etc. or even intentially by covering or removing vents)
What can I do about this?
Really the answer is very simple but often overlooked
- Always have the appliance fitted by a trained and registered professional for the fuel type being considered.
- Get your appliance regularly serviced (most appliances require yearly servicing visits).
- Do not cover, block, remove or replace and ventilation you have in your property without first consulting a professional.
- Make sure vegetation does not grow over vents and flues.
- Check flues and appliances for evidence of incomplete burning as detailed above.
- If in doubt, get it checked by a professional.
Ok, now what about Carbon Monoxide Detectors?
Carbon Monoxide Detectors are cheap and easy to use so not only useful as a backup to the list of solutions above but can give peace of mind similar to smoke detectors. Remember Smoke detectors do not detect CO and CO detectors do not detect smoke!
There are two common types of detector, powered units with audible alarms and card based indicators. Whilst both work, the card indicators are really only of limited use as you have to remember to look at them to check for CO and they are not particularly sensitive. They are best suited to portable heaters and cookers and camping appliances. Whereas the electrical detectors use an audible alarm and led lights and so can be “set and forget” (they will make a noise when the battery is getting old).
What to look for in a monitor.
There are many alarms on the market so which ever you choose it should
- Have a British Standard EN 50291 mar (also written as BSEN 50291 or shown with the CE mark.
- Have a British or European Kitemark, Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCDB) or equivalent testing approval mark.
- All of the Carbon Monoxide Detectors we sell are approved and from well know manufacturers
Some tips on fitting the CO Detector.
As always, follow the instructions supplied with your new detector but also consider:
- Place the alarm in a central location, not a cupboard
- Fix the alarm to a wall at head height, or place it on a table or bookshelf.
- Place the alarm at least a metre away from appliances but ideally in the same room.
- Test your alarm regularly using the test button and replace the batteries when indicated.
Lastly, as a consumer, what to do if you think your appliance is spilling carbon monoxide (advice from HSE)
- Switch of the appliance if gas or oil and shut off the supply
- Open all doors and windows to ventilate the room
- Call the National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999
- Contact a register engineer to check and repair the cause of the CO.
- Visit your GP and tell him/her that you believe you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide.
Gas Safe Register (for registered Gas installers/engineers) – http://www.gassaferegister.co.uk
HETA (for solid fuel appliance installers/engineers) – http://www.hetas.co.uk
Oftec (Oil installer regulator) – http://www.oftec.org