Carbon monoxide (CO) is a silent killer. It can infiltrate your home through the most apparently harmless devices, like your boiler or cooker. It is impossible to see or smell, yet it is easy to protect yourself and your family from the risks.
These pages are a guide to carbon monoxide and how to recognise if it’s present in your home. Too many people die each year in the UK from carbon monoxide poisoning, and many become chronically ill. By reading the information contained here, you can stop yourself and your loved ones becoming a carbon monoxide statistic.
A few simple steps, including an annual gas safety check with a GAS SAFE REGISTERED installer, could prevent needless deaths or illness as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Gas stoves, fires and boilers, gas powered water heaters, paraffin heaters, solid fuel powered stoves, boilers and room heaters are all capable of producing CO if not appropriately installed and maintained.
Carbon Monoxide can seep into properties via shared flues and chimneys and people may be poisoned by Carbon Monoxide produced by an appliance from next-door. There have also been cases where gas fires have been vented into cavity walls and led to the poisoning of people living above those using the fire.
Possible causes of incomplete combustion include:
Failure to maintain your gas appliances correctly can lead to a carbon monoxide leak.
Our blood has a component called haemoglobin, which normally absorbs oxygen in our lungs and carries it to the rest of the body. But haemoglobin absorbs carbon monoxide 240 times more easily than it does oxygen.
So when we inhale carbon monoxide from the air, it is this gas, rather than oxygen, that attaches itself to the haemoglobin, starving the body of oxygen. The smaller the person, the more quickly the body can become overcome by the effects of carbon monoxide.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can easily be confused with: Flu
Severe carbon monoxide poisoning makes the body turn a cherry-red colour. Unlike lack of oxygen due to choking, for example, the body does not turn blue (cyanosis). Instead, the victim’s skin will be pink or pale with bright red lips.
The early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are tiredness, headaches and chest or stomach pains. If you experience any of these symptoms while using a gas appliance, you need urgent medical attention.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can affect the victim’s mental ability before she or he is even aware that there is a problem. Any effort that increases the body’s need for oxygen only makes the problem worse, rapidly leading to collapse and potentially death.
You can tell if a gas appliance is working correctly by looking at the flame. If it’s bright blue, it’s healthy. If it’s yellowy orange, this is evidence of a possible carbon monoxide presence.
Other signs to look for include brownish-yellow stains around the appliance, pilot lights that frequently blow out and heavy condensation in the room where the appliance is installed.
You are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if:
It is extremely dangerous to block a gas appliance’s air vents. Blocking ventilation or misusing your appliance – for example, using a cooker as a heating appliance – can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
A GAS SAFE REGISTERED installer is a gas expert. He or she will have undergone extensive training to qualify for registration.
The majority of work carried out by illegal gas workers has been found to have serious safety defects.
By using a tradesperson who is not GAS SAFE REGISTERED, you are literally taking your life in your own hands.
Remember: GAS SAFE REGISTERATION does not automatically cover all areas of gas work. Most installers specialise in one or more areas, so check that they are qualified to carry out the work you are asking them to do; for example, fitting a boiler. You can check with GAS SAFE REGISTERS customer services team or look on the back of the installer’s ID card.
The report shows that between January 2006 and April 2007, there were 102 carbon monoxide incidents, claiming 50 lives and causing 218, often long term. The absence of centralised reporting as well as undiagnosed cases passing through the healthcare system means the overall figures will be much higher.
The Worst Hit Regions:
The Midlands, North East, Wales and Yorkshire are the worst affected regions in the UK, reporting the most incidents per head of population.
The elderly and the young have been identified as vulnerable groups, while tenants have also been highlighted due to the risks they face at the hands of lazy or ignorant private landlords.