Millions still at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning

Growing evidence that many people think they are protected when they are not

New research reveals that at least 35 million people are still at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning. In many cases, this is likely to be because people mistakenly think that their smoke alarm will detect carbon monoxide.

This research is published on the day that carbon monoxide alarms become compulsory in new homes in Northern Ireland.

In a survey for the Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! campaign, 81 per cent of people knew that carbon monoxide can kill. Despite this, only 39 per cent said that they have a carbon monoxide alarm. Of those without a carbon monoxide alarm, 42 per cent said this was because they have a smoke alarm, indicating a high level of confusion between the two types of alarms.

There is also evidence of further confusion: while 39 per cent of people in Great Britain believe they have a carbon monoxide alarm, research suggests that the real figure is much lower. Speaking on behalf of the campaign, TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp explained:

“The message that carbon monoxide is dangerous seems to be getting through but it is horrifying to think that there still are millions of people who are not protecting themselves or think they are protected when they’re not.

“Safety checks carried out by the fire service in over 22,000 homes across Merseyside found that fewer than one in ten homes had a carbon monoxide alarm. The sales figures for alarms also suggest that the true figure is much lower than 39 per cent.

“Carbon monoxide can kill you without any warning. Please make sure you have an audible carbon monoxide alarm. Even if you think you’ve got one, check that it is for carbon monoxide and that it works.”

Carbon monoxide has no colour, taste or smell, meaning installing an audible alarm, that sounds when carbon monoxide is present, is the only way to ensure a household is protected. Carbon Monoxide alarms are a similar size to smoke alarms, and only take a few minutes to fit.

The Department of Health estimates that 50 people are killed by carbon monoxide poisoning, and at least 4,000 are treated in hospital, in the UK each year. However, the figure is likely to be much higher than this, as carbon monoxide poisoning is very difficult to diagnose as symptoms are often similar to common illnesses like flu and food poisoning.

Stacey Rodgers lost her 10-year-old son Dominic to carbon monoxide when the gas seeped through the wall from her neighbour’s house and killed him while he slept. She said:

“I wish every day that I could turn back the clock. If I had known about carbon monoxide and had an alarm, Dominic would still be with me. Installing an alarm is easy and quick to do so don’t put it off, it is not a risk worth taking.”

As carbon monoxide can seep through walls, people need an alarm even if they have regularly serviced appliances, and even if they have no fuel burning appliances as neighbouring homes may have.

Where to buy a carbon monoxide alarm

Carbon monoxide alarms are available from many DIY stores, supermarkets, high street shops or directly from energy suppliers. They can cost as little as £15.

Notes to editors

For more information, and interviews with victims of carbon monoxide poisoning, please contact the Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! press office on 020 7492 0999 or email press@co-bealarmed.co.uk.

Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! is the national campaign to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by carbon monoxide. The campaign is run by Energy UK on behalf of Britain’s six major gas and electricity companies in partnership with the Dominic Rodgers Trust, and is supported by more than 40 other organisations.

Carbon monoxide is produced when fuels such as gas, oil, charcoal, coal and wood do not burn completely. The most common cause of this is when an appliance, such as a boiler or cooker, is installed incorrectly or poorly maintained. Carbon monoxide can also build up when flues, chimneys or vents are blocked.

Key steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

  1. Fit an audible carbon monoxide alarm. It should meet European standard EN50291.  Carbon Monoxide alarms are a similar size to smoke alarms and only take a few minutes to fit.  They need to be put in a central location in the house and can be fixed to the wall or can be placed on a table, bookshelf or shelf.
  2. Have fuel-burning appliances serviced annually by an appropriately qualified and registered engineer.
  3. Don’t block ventilation and have chimneys swept at least once a year
  4. Know the main symptoms: headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness, collapsing and loss of consciousness. Keys signs are if symptoms clear up when you are away from home and come back when you return, or if other people in your household experience similar symptoms.
  5. Watch out for soot or yellow/brown staining on or around your appliance, a lazy yellow / orange coloured gas flame rather than a sharp blue one or pilot lights which blow out frequently.

Northern Ireland Carbon Monoxide Alarm Legislation

From 31 October 2012, Northern Ireland Building Regulations will require:
“Where a new or replacement combustion appliance, not designed solely for cooking purposes, is installed in a dwelling, a carbon monoxide detector/alarm should be provided in the room where the appliance is located. However, if the combustion appliance is installed in a room or space not normally used e.g. a boiler room/cupboard, the detector/alarm should be located just outside the room or space. This should allow the alarm to be heard more easily.” (Northern Ireland Building Regulations Technical Booklet L)

Research

The research in Merseyside was published by Liverpool John Moores University in May 2012. Fire fighters conducted checks at 22,182 properties across Merseyside. 92% of the properties did not have carbon monoxide alarms.

The research for Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! was carried out by ICM research in September 2012, among 3,458 GB adults. Other findings included:

  • 57% of respondents said that they do not have an audible carbon monoxide alarm in their home. (This is the equivalent of over 35 million people in Great Britain). A further 4% said that they didn’t know if they had one.
  • Once informed of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, 94% of those surveyed agreed that a similar law to that being introduced in Northern Ireland should be considered for the rest of the UK.
  • Apart from ‘I have a smoke alarm’ (41%), the other reasons given for not having a carbon monoxide alarm included: ‘I haven’t got round to getting one’ (31%); not having any gas or fuel-burning appliances (13%); thinking carbon monoxide poisoning only happens if your boiler is old or un-serviced (6%); or having a black spot detector which changes colour when carbon monoxide is present (5%).
  • Many people are unclear of the potential symptoms and health risks associated with carbon monoxide poisoning:
      Although 81% were aware that carbon monoxide can kill, many did not know that it can also cause long-term health problems, including heart problems (93% unaware), long-term brain damage (62% unaware) and respiratory problems (33% unaware)
      Almost half (49%) of those surveyed were unable to correctly identify at least three of the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, including headaches or migraines (36% unaware), nausea or vomiting (45% unaware), dizziness or loss of balance (38% unaware), and lethargy or tiredness (34% unaware)