Health & Safety

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Carbon Monoxide Awareness

10 November 2017

Many organisations are once again joining together to run and support Carbon Monoxide Awareness Month during November, led by Health and Safety Executive (NI), including the County Fire and Rescue Services, Public Health England, Health and Safety Executive, Gas Safe, British Gas and others.

Gas engineeer testing appliance

Background information

The aim is to raise awareness of the serious effects of carbon monoxide poisoning and the devastating consequences it can have on people’s lives. Following action to highlight the risks from carbon monoxide poisoning by Government, Public Health England (PHE), industry, campaign groups and others, the number of deaths from CO poisoning fell but between 2014 and 2016 there has been a worrying 10% increase in accidental CO deaths in the UK. So the CWU Health, Safety & Environment Department is reminding everyone of the dangers of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

Protect yourself and others

The campaign also urges people to recognise the symptoms of CO poisoning. As an additional precaution, people should install an audible carbon monoxide alarm. Remember, CO alarms have a limited life span, so if you’ve had one for a while, please check to see if it’s working properly.

CO Awareness Month aims to remind people to stay safe by:

  • Making sure that their boilers and fuel-burning appliances are serviced annually by a registered engineer
  • getting their chimneys inspected annually and swept if required by a registered technician
  • checking for warning signs if appliances aren’t working correctly – for example, lazy yellow or orange flames instead of crisp blue ones, black marks on or around the appliance and too much condensation in the room
  • learning about the six signs of carbon monoxide poisoning – headaches, dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, collapse and loss of consciousness
  • installing an audible carbon monoxide alarm as a back-up safety measure to alert them if carbon monoxide is in their home

Death snd Injury Toll

Recent analysis revealed the hidden toll, each year, from this dangerous invisible gas:

  • 4,000 people go to A&E
  • 200 people are hospitalised
  • There are around 60 deaths in the UK

Silent Killer

CO is produced by the incomplete combustion of solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels. It is a highly poisonous gas which is impossible to see, taste or smell and is often known as the ‘silent killer’. Under normal circumstances, CO should not be detectable in the typical home or workplace. When appliances are kept in good working condition, they produce little CO. It is difficult to detect because you can’t see, smell or taste it.

Many CO poisoning deaths take place between November and February due to faulty heating appliances and boilers leaking this lethal gas. To lower the risk, we recommend that people should ensure that their fossil fuel and wood burning appliances are regularly checked by an appropriately registered engineer. In addition, people should fit an audible CO alarm which meets European Standards EN 50291 in each room containing an appliance and ensure rooms are adequately ventilated. It recommends that people have these appliances and their flues checked before the start of winter, which is when most of the accidental deaths occur.

Key Facts

  • Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can be fatal or cause permanent damage to your health.
  • CO is produced when carbon fuels don’t burn completely.
  • It has no smell or taste and, in large quantities, it can kill very quickly.

Danger signs

Danger signs that CO may be leaking include:

  • yellow or orange flames where there should normally be blue ones
  • sooty stains on the walls around fires and water heaters. You could also be poisoned by CO if you share a wall or chimney with a house that has a CO leak, even if your own house does not have one.


Six main symptoms of CO Poisioning

Early symptoms of Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning can mimic many common ailments and may easily be confused with food poisoning, viral infections, flu or simple tiredness. Exposure to high concentration levels of CO, even for a short time, can render a person gradually becoming unconscious. Unfortunately, many people do not recover from the unconscious phase.

Six main symptoms to look out for include:

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

At high levels, CO poisoning can cause sudden collapse, loss of consciousness and death. If you or your family or colleagues experience any of the above symptoms and you believe CO may be involved, you must seek urgent medical advice from either a doctor or go to an accident and emergency department. CO quickly leaves the blood and tests may be inaccurate if taken more than four hours after exposure has ceased.

The Gas Safe Register

Gas Safe Register logo

The Gas Safe Register estimates there are around 7,500 illegal gas fitters operating across the UK, and up to 250,000 illegal gas jobs may be carried out each year. All persons employed to work on gas appliances in the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and Guernsey must be registered with the Gas Safe Register. Always check that any engineer undertaking work is ‘Gas Safe registered’.