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The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

What Exactly is Carbon Monoxide (CO)? Carbon Monoxide or CO is a highly poisonous gas that is created when carbon based fuels aren’t burnt completely. These fuels can include gas, oil, coal and wood and since the gas is odourless, colourless and even tasteless it is very hard to detect. For this reason is is often referred to as the ‘Silent Killer’. Though the fuels are safe to use when burnt correctly, it is only on the occasion when the fuel isn’t burnt completely that the Carbon Monoxide is produced.

Once inhaled, CO restricts oxygen passage to the cells, organs and tissues of the body by preventing the blood from carrying it to these vital areas.

It is thought that around twenty people throughout the UK die every year from the exposure to CO gas caused by incorrectly fitted, or poorly maintained flues and gas appliances. Even more than this number may suffer serious health problems due to prolonged exposure to the poisonous gas including paralysis and brain damage.

How do I know if my health is at risk from CO?

There are a few signs which can indicate that the fuel you are using is being partially burnt, resulting in the production of Carbon Monoxide, these are:

  1. A pilot light on your boiler that frequently blows itself out
  2. Yellowish/brown stainage either on the casing or around your appliance
  3. A yellow or more orange flame being visible as supposed to the standard blue (unless a fuel-effect fire or a flueless appliance which are designed to show this colour flame)
  4. A noticeable increase in the amount of condensation present inside your windows.

How can I prevent CO poisoning?

There are a number of steps that yo can take in order to minimise any risk of Carbon Monoxide exposure, including:

  1. If you have a chimney present for an open fire, be sure to get it swept fully by a professional at least annually.
  2. Ensure any room with a gas appliance is well ventilated, that there is a good supply of fresh air and that any vents or flues aren’t blocked during usage.
  3. If you have any gas fuelled appliances installed, whether it is at a commercial or residential premises ensure you hire a ‘Gas Safe Registered’ engineer (formerly CORGI) to carry out the work and that they are fully competent in the area of work you require carrying out.
  4. Make sure any gas appliances you may have are regularly serviced, again by a fully qualified ‘Gas Safe Registered’ engineer. If you live in rented accommodation your landlord has a duty to ensure any gas appliances are regularly serviced and maintained.

I think my appliance might be leaking CO gas… what should I do?

If you think your appliance may be leaking the poisonous Carbon Monoxide gas into your premises there are a number of steps you should take:

  1. Firstly, make sure the appliance is switched off completely, and under no circumstances turn it back on until it has been given the all-clear. Make sure anyone else who ices the property is aware of the problem.
  2. If possible, find your gas supply meter and switch off your gas supply at the source. Then contact the National Grid on the free emergency number 0800 111 999.
  3. Visit your local doctor as soon as possible, making an emergency appointment and fully explain your symptoms (see below) whilst explaining you believe they may be linked to Carbon Monoxide. They will issue either a blood test, breath sample or both if necessary

The symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning

t’s vital that you seek urgent medical attention if you believe any of the following symptoms are linked to CO poisoning, be sure to ask for a blood and/or breath test. It’s important to remember that CO can leave the blood very rapidly, and if the medical attention you receive is over 4 hours after the exposure the test may be inaccurate, putting you and others back at risk. The symptoms to look out for include:

  • nausea/sickness
  • collapsing
  • headaches
  • vision problems
  • lack of breath
  • dizziness/loss of co-ordination
  • unconsciousness
  • fatigue
  • chest pains
  • drowsiness
  • vomiting
  • stomach pain

If the symptoms are detected early, be aware that they can be confused with a variety of common illnesses such as flu, general fatigue and food poisoning.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Carbon monoxide alarms are a valuable addition to any premises that may be at risk of CO leakage. Having an audible alarm available is vital in the event of any CO leakage during the night, or while you are otherwise engaged. What’s more they aren’t expensive and offer another defines against the ‘silent killer’. Any CO alarm purchased must comply with the EN 50291 British Standard and have the appropriate approval mark present (for example the Kitemark). Always be sure to install the alarms as per the recommended installation procedure from the manufacturer and check operation and battery levels regularly for optimum usage.

Though recommended highly, it’s important not to rely solely on a Carbon Monoxide alarm. Regular boiler servicing and properly carried out boiler installation should be used in conjunction with the installation of CO alarms for ultimate safety.

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