Britons’ false sense of security over deadly gas putting lives at risk

Study finds millions wrongly believe they are already protected

Over 35 million Britons are still at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning because they don’t have an alarm in their home which will warn them of the poisonous gas.

The new research, published as it becomes compulsory in Scotland to install a carbon monoxide alarm whenever a new fuel-burning appliance is fitted, also discovered widespread confusion about the alarms.

Of those without a carbon monoxide alarm, 44 per cent said this was because they have a smoke alarm, indicating that many people don’t realise that a smoke alarm won’t detect carbon monoxide. The number of people saying that they have a carbon monoxide alarm (43 per cent) is also much higher than the number of homes found to have them during fire service visits. The true figure could be as low as one in ten homes.

As carbon monoxide has no smell, colour or taste, installing an audible alarm that sounds when the gas is present is the only way to make sure you are protected. It can be produced by any fuel-burning appliance – such as a boiler, cooker or fire – which is faulty or doesn’t have adequate ventilation.

The research was conducted by the Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! campaign which works to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by carbon monoxide. Catherine McFerran and Katrina Davidson lost their sons, Neil and Aaron, both 18, in August 2010 to carbon monoxide poisoning while they were staying in a holiday apartment in Castlerock. They said:

“Since our sons were cruelly taken from us by this silent killer, we have campaigned to try to prevent similar tragedies. Carbon monoxide alarms are now compulsory for all new homes in Northern Ireland and when new appliances are installed in Scotland, but many people in older homes or in the rest of the UK may still be at risk. Make sure you and your loved ones are protected: make sure you have a working, audible carbon monoxide alarm in your home. It is not a risk worth taking.”

Dr Rob Hicks, who is supporting the campaign, said:

“At high levels, carbon monoxide can kill you in a matter of minutes. At lower levels, it can cause a range of serious and long-term health problems. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are very hard to recognise, even for doctors, as they are similar to many common illnesses like flu and food poisoning. This makes it very easy to miss the warning signs, with life-threatening consequences. Don’t take the risk. Most people wouldn’t dream of not having a smoke alarm – it should be the same with carbon monoxide alarms. Make sure you have an audible carbon monoxide alarm, and that it works.”

The Department of Health estimates that at least 4,000 people are treated in hospital and 40 are killed by carbon monoxide poisoning each year but the true figures are likely to be significantly higher. In France, which has a similar population to the UK and where carbon monoxide is tested for during post mortems, the number of deaths attributed to carbon monoxide is far higher.

Carbon monoxide alarms only take a few minutes to fit and cost as little as £15. They are available from DIY stores, supermarkets, high street shops or directly from energy suppliers.

Find out more at our how to stay safe page.