Health and Safety News

Occupational health and safety news and guidance

The dangers of carbon monoxide

picture shows a couple sitting together in front of an open fireCarbon monoxide has been called “a silent killer” by Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, stating that the deadly toxin “leads to 50 deaths every year”. At first glance this figure may seem relatively low when compared to other statistics (for example, from 2010 to 2011, 388 people died in UK house fires and there were more than 10,000 recorded non-fatal casualties), however, carbon monoxide remains a serious health and safety threat - the fact that it is completely avoidable makes the number of deaths even more shocking.

In order to eradicate the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning it is vital to know and understand all the relevant information – including what it is, what it does and, most importantly, how to avoid it. So the fire safety specialists at Elite Fire have compiled a handy guide to make sure you prevent poisoning and learn how to recognise the early warning signs…

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a product of the incomplete combustion of natural or petroleum gas. It is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas which is slightly lighter than air and, when encountered in high concentrations, is toxic.

It is produced from the partial oxidation of carbon-containing compounds which, in more simple terms, means it forms when there is not enough oxygen to produce carbon dioxide, thus carbon monoxide can be produced when the combustion of carbon-based fuels, such as bottled gas, mains gas, coal, oil or wood, is incomplete. Common sources of carbon monoxide include faulty central heating systems, gas appliances and fires. Additionally, blocked flues and chimneys are a massive carbon monoxide threat as the gases can’t escape.

What are the main symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning to look out for?

If carbon monoxide is inhaled it replaces the oxygen in the blood and, in large enough quantities will reduce the blood’s ability to carry oxygen - killing cells and starving organs of oxygen. The key symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can appear similar to those of a cold, flu infection or food poisoning, and include things such as a headache, dizziness, sore throat, nausea, abdominal pain and dry cough. In contrast, carbon monoxide poisoning doesn’t cause a high temperature – making this something to look out for.

More severe carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms include hyperventilation, a fast and irregular heart rate, drowsiness, confusion and difficult breathing. In extreme cases, seizures and loss of consciousness are also possible.

How can you prevent it?

One of the biggest dangers of carbon monoxide is how undetectable it is – you can’t see it, smell it, taste it or hear it, meaning people die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning by simply slipping into unconsciousness and never coming round.

This makes it incredibly important to understand the symptoms and early warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. However, their ambiguous nature can make them quite difficult to distinguish, meaning it is vital you prevent the threat of carbon monoxide as much as possible.

You can minimise the risk of exposure by putting these safety tips into practice:

  • Service and clean your chimneys and flues regularly
  • Make sure your gas appliances and heating systems are inspected yearly
  • Install and regularly maintain high quality carbon monoxide alarms
  • Never run cars, motorbikes or lawn mowers in a closed garage

What are the commercial regulations?

If you own or manage a commercial building, the law states you must identify any activities which may expose workers or the public to carbon monoxide. And, in order to fully comply with The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 you must then manage these risks accordingly. This involves undertaking Risk Assessments, regularly servicing your gas appliances, heating systems, chimneys, and fitting carbon monoxide alarms.

Written by Elite Fire London – The Carbon Monoxide & Fire Safety Specialists.

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