Carbon monoxide – be aware; stay safe

What is carbon monoxide and why is it important to be aware of it?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas. It’s produced when fuels, including gas, oil, coal and wood don’t burn properly.

When CO enters the body, it prevents the blood from bringing oxygen to cells, tissues and organs. Above a certain level it can kill quickly and without warning – it is sometimes referred to as the “silent killer”.

Every year in the UK, over 200 people go to hospital with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, which leads to around 40 deaths, approximately 7 of which are caused by gas appliances and flues that have not been properly installed, maintained or that are poorly ventilated.

Gas appliances which can cause CO include:

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What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?
It’s worth remembering the early symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to common ailments such as food poisoning, viral infections, flu or simple tiredness. Symptoms to look out for include:

  • headaches or dizziness
  • nausea
  • breathlessness
  • erratic behaviour
  • tiredness
  • loss of consciousness
  • pains in the chest or stomach
  • visual problems

If you or your family experience any of the above symptoms and believe you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide, you should seek urgent medical advice from either your GP or an A&E department. You should call 999 in an emergency.

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What are the signs that CO may be present?
If you spot any of the signs below, it doesn’t definitely mean that there is a release of CO, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and stop using the appliance concerned.

  • gas flame appears ‘floppy’ and burns orange or yellow rather than mostly blue flames
  • soot or yellow/brown staining around or on appliances
  • pilot lights that frequently blow out
  • you see or smell smoke or have increased condensation in the room where you have a gas appliance

If you’re concerned about any of the above, call the National Gas Emergency Number: 0800 111 999 or contact Gas Safe Register for a list of registered engineers in your area – www.gassaferegister.co.uk   or call 0800 408 5500.

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Protecting yourself and your family
There are three simple things you can do to safeguard yourself and your loved ones from CO poisoning:

  1. Identify the danger – know the signs and symptoms to look out for, and then ensure you act on them.
  2. Get your gas appliances checked and serviced every year by a qualified Gas Safe Register engineer – ensure you make a note of the date.
  3. Fit an audible carbon monoxide alarm. You can buy one relatively cheaply from most local DIY stores and supermarkets.

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More information