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Carbon monoxide poisoning - know the risks

Carbon monoxide poisoning - know the risks

It’s vital that you make sure you know the risks and how to prevent CO poisoning.

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is serious business, so what should you look out for, and how can you prevent it from happening?

We've pulled together a guide to CO poisoning so you know what to look out for, and how to prevent it from occurring in the first place, so you don't get caught out by this silent killer.

Carbon monoxide has a fierce reputation as one of the major domestic dangers facing households. The good news is that by using a carbon monoxide detector, or carbon monoxide alarm, you don't have to worry about falling victim to its dangers.

We take a look at what carbon dioxide is, what the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are, what you can do to detect it, and how you can prevent it from happening in the first place.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is produced when there is not enough oxygen to bond with carbon-producing compounds, often during the incomplete burning of gas or LPG. It occurs naturally, but in enclosed spaces like the home it is usually the result of faulty gas appliances like heaters, boilers, and fireplaces.

It can also happen if chimneys, flues or vents are blocked. Carbon monoxide can also be produced by oil, wood, petrol and coal.

What are the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Carbon monoxide is so dangerous because you can’t see, smell or hear it. Therefore you need to be extra vigilant when looking out for the symptoms of CO poisoning. CO poisoning can manifest itself with symptoms similar to those of a hangover or the flu.

As a colourless and odourless gas carbon monoxide is difficult to detect, but there are some clear symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The six main symptoms are as identified by the Gas Safe Register are:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Breathlessness
  • Nausea
  • Collapse
  • Loss of consciousness

While these symptoms could occur for a variety of reasons, a sure sign of carbon monoxide poisoning is where and how they occur.

If they occur within your home, with a similar effect on others in your home including pets, and disappear when you leave your home, you may be feeling the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you start to notice these symptoms you should open doors and windows, turn off any gas appliances, leave your home, and go to your nearest doctor or hospital, and if you are in immediate danger you can easily call the Gas Emergency Helpline on 0800 111 999.

Do you have a carbon monoxide detector?

Every home should be fitted with a carbon monoxide alarm. Carbon monoxide detectors can save your life, as they will sound before any carbon monoxide in your home reaches a dangerous level.

If the alarm on your CO detector sounds you should turn off any gas appliances, leave your home immediately, and contact an engineer.

A carbon monoxide monitor is cheap to buy and easy to install, and you may even be able to get a free carbon monoxide detector from your gas supplier.

Looking just like a smoke alarm, these small devices should cost between £15 and £35 from most reputable DIY stores, but make sure you get an audible alarm rather than those that give visible warnings, or 'black spot' alarms, as you are most at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning while you sleep.

When you buy your alarm make sure it has the British Standard EN50291 mark, also shown as BSEN 50291, and look for the British Standards Kitemark, or the equivalent from other European standards associations. And don't worry about getting confused, there is no such thing as a carbon dioxide detector.

When you install your alarm make sure you put it in a central location like the hallway, place it at head height, and make sure it is at least a meter from any appliances. The golden rule, as with smoke alarms, is to test it regularly and replace the batteries at least once a year, or when the low battery alarm sounds.

Carbon monoxide detectors that don’t solely rely on sound alerts are available for those who have different requirements. They might offer a visual alert like a flashing light, or come with a component that makes the bed vibrate to ensure that anyone asleep will wake up. Some systems might also come with a digital display that tells the resident what the situation is once they’re awake. If you or someone you care for might need this extra support, it's worth checking with local carbon monoxide detector suppliers to see what options might be out there.

How can you prevent carbon monoxide in your home?

Prevention is always better than cure, and the key to preventing carbon monoxide is regular maintenance of your appliances. If you own your property, it’s your responsibility to make sure that all your gas appliances are serviced and checked on an annual basis.

It’s essential that you use a Gas Safe Registered engineer, as only registered engineers are legally allowed to install and service gas appliances in your home.

Carbon monoxide warning signs:

  • Your cooker flames should be crisp and blue, not yellow or orange
  • Watch out for soot or yellow-brown staining around or on appliances
  • Your boiler pilot lights shouldn't be inconsistent or frequently blow out
  • Look out for more condensation than usual inside windows

If you notice any of these signs on your boiler or oven turn it off immediately and call in an accredited engineer.

You should also make sure your boiler and gas appliances are regularly maintained by a Gas Safe Registered engineer. The Gas Safe Register, previously known as CORGI, is the UK's gas safety body.

Just look out for the Gas Safe Register logo, a yellow triangle, on your engineer's registration card, and if you're in any doubt check on the Gas Safe Register website or call 0800 408 5500.

The same applies when you're having appliances installed in your home. Always make sure your installer is Gas Safe Registered accredited, and if you're having any solid-fuel appliances installed look for HETAS accreditation.

If you’re moving into rented accommodation, it’s the law that your landlord has to produce a gas safety certificate to prove that annual safety checks have been carried out and all gas appliances have been serviced.

Remember, if you’re in the UK and have any problems with gas in your property, you can call the Gas Emergency freephone number 0800 111 999.

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