Carbon monoxide: How an alarm could save your life

PUBLISHED: 11:33 10 April 2015 | UPDATED: 11:33 10 April 2015

Fire Department in action

Fire Department in action


The gas is known as the silent killer

IF YOU thought there was something in your home that might kill you, you’d do something about it …wouldn’t you?

Well, apparently not. Research last week revealed that half the south east’s householders are putting themselves at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning because they don’t have an alarm.

In the nationwide YouGov survey of almost 3,000 households, only 50 per cent of those in the south east who knew what carbon monoxide was said they had an alarm – and just 47 per cent had domestic appliances which could emit carbon monoxide serviced regularly.

It could be a serious omission, says Greg Theophanides, Kent Fire and Rescue’s operational response and planning manager.

“Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer. It’s colourless and odourless,” he explained.

“An alarm is your guardian.”

Gas appliances such as cookers, heaters and combi or central heating boilers can emit carbon monoxide if they are faulty, or if a flue, chimney or vent is blocked – and those living in the house will start to breathe it in. Oil, coal, wood and petrol can also produce carbon monoxide.

“The blood will take it up more readily than oxygen,” Mr Theophanides explained.

“You may start to get headaches and palpitations, feel drowsy or sick, vomit or suffer from short term memory loss.

“But it will kill you eventually. And a faulty boiler may cause a fire or a gas explosion too.”

Getting an alarm is sounding more and more like a good idea – and Mr Theophanides says most should cost no more than £10.

“It should bear the British Standard kitemark and British Standard number BS 7860:1996,” he said.

“Most electrical stores and DIY stores will have them. Don’t buy a cheap one from the market.

“If you don’t have a smoke alarm, get one too at the same time, and test them both regularly – at least once a year. We can provide smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors for elderly, disabled or vulnerable people.”

The south west had the lowest proportion of households with alarms, at 39 per cent, while Yorkshire and the Humber and Wales both had the highest proportion at 54 per cent.

And the Department of Health estimates that each year in England and Wales, approximately 4,000 people are admitted to hospital accident and emergency departments as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Around 50 people died from poisoning each year, and many more suffer serious long-term health problems – it can cause brain damage.

Possible signs of carbon monoxide in your home include weak yellow or orange flames on the cooker; dark stains or soot around or on appliances; pilot lights that frequently blow out; and increased condensation inside windows.

So why are people apparently so reluctant to protect themselves?

“Some of it might be about education, or it might be the cost of having appliances serviced that puts people off,” Mr Theophanides said.

“There are lots of things like that that we ignore – we get a bit complacent about our safety.”

The national Gas Safe Register, the UK’s gas safety authority, recommends that appliances are serviced annually, and says it is important to make sure they are fitted and serviced by an accredited engineer.

The organisation estimates that a quarter of a million illegal gas jobs are carried out every year in the UK, of which nine out of 10 are not completed to the required standard, and one in five are so dangerous that an explosion, fire or carbon monoxide poisoning could have occurred at any moment.

Chief executive Russell Kramer said: “Even low levels of carbon monoxide can cause serious harm when breathed in over a long period of time.

“Being able to recognise the symptoms early is crucial in helping to prevent injuries and death.”

To find a registered engineer, call Gas Safe Register on 0800 408 5500 or visit Registered engineers will also carry a Gas Safe ID card.

To sign up to a reminder service that lets you know when your appliances need servicing, visit

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