Need for home safety checks highlighted at Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week


Users of fossil-fuel and woodburning appliances have been advised by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) to have their equipment checked by registered engineers prior to the onset of winter.

Carbon Monoxide Alarm

The HPS's advice was a key message of Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week. Held this week in November (19th - 25th November), the event is part of an effort to raise awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning in the home.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas which can be emitted by faulty domestic fossil-fuel and woodburning boilers, heaters and cookers.

Symptoms of CO poisoning include headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, chest pains, nausea and vomiting. At high levels of exposure, poisoning by this hard–to-detect gas can lead to collapse, unconsciousness and death.

Latest figures suggest an average of some 40 accidental deaths in England and Wales each year, with around 4,000 people attending A&E departments in England due to CO poisoning. Most are not usually considered sufficiently ill to require hospitalisation. However, persistent CO exposure is understood to be associated with long-term neurological effects, such as lack of concentration.

The Health Protection Agency's Dr John Harrison noted that the many CO fatalities which occur between November and February are due to faulty appliances and need not happen.

"To lower the risk, people should ensure that their fossil fuel and wood burning appliances are regularly checked by an appropriately registered engineer," Dr Harrison said. "The HPA recommends that people have these appliances and their flues checked before the start of winter. Rooms in which appliances are used must also be adequately ventilated."

The HPA has urged consumers to install in their homes an audible CO alarm which meets European Standards EN 50291. However, the alarm, available from most DIY retailers, should not replace a registered engineer's regular inspection.

Dr Harrison added that while CO is hard to detect, certain indicators might suggest faulty domestic appliances or flues. "The signs of trouble are black sooty marks on the radiants – the clay bars above the gas flames – of gas fires, sooty marks on the wall around stoves, boilers or fires, and smoke accumulating in rooms due to faulty flues."

"In addition, yellow instead of blue flames from gas appliances is another sign that there may be a fault with the appliance – although this does not apply to 'fuel-effect', 'living-flame' or 'decorative-flame' gas fires as they are designed to look like flames from solid fuel appliances."

If such signs appear, the HPA recommends that consumers shut off the appliance in question, open windows and arrange for an appropriately registered engineer to service the appliance as soon as possible.

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