Carbon monoxide kills – protect yourself and your family

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Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can kill. In the winter months, when people use their heating appliances more frequently, there are often more cases/incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) is urging everyone to have their fossil fuel and wood burning appliances, such as boilers, heaters and cookers checked by an appropriately registered engineer, particularly if you haven’t had it serviced in the last year, in order to reduce the risk of CO exposure.

CO poisoning can be fatal and affect anyone. However, children, students, the elderly, pregnant women and anyone with heart or breathing problems are more vulnerable to its effects.

CO is produced when fossil fuels such as gas, coal, oil, wood, petrol and paraffin burn without enough oxygen. It is a colourless, tasteless, odourless gas that is non-irritating, and as a result can be very hard to detect.

Dr Anne Wilson, consultant in Health Protection, PHA, advised: “Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal and can also cause long-term health problems if victims are exposed to low doses over a long period of time. The signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are often mistaken for other illnesses, such as food poisoning or flu – the symptoms can be similar to flu but without a raised temperature. Please look out for these signs and symptoms and consider if carbon monoxide poisoning could be the cause.

“Anyone who suspects they may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning should immediately turn off all appliances, go outside and seek medical help from a qualified healthcare professional. Appliances should not be used again until they have been serviced by a registered engineer.”

The PHA is urging people to be vigilant for the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, including headaches, nausea and vomiting, exhaustion, drowsiness, dizziness and light-headedness, ‘flu like’ symptom, palpitations (feeling your heart beat oddly), chest pain and losing consciousness.

To minimise the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning the PHA recommends the following:

• sweep chimneys and flues every year if you use solid fuel;

• keep flues, air vents and grilles clear and ensure rooms are well ventilated;

• if you are in rented accommodation that incorporate gas appliances ask your landlord to provide you with an up-to-date gas safety record. This is a requirement by law and is particularly important for students renting houses and flats; and

• install an audible Carbon Monoxide alarm that meets British or European standards (BS Kitemark or EN 50291). These cost as little as £20.00 and can be purchased from large DIY stores and food retail stores.

Alarms however, should not be used as a substitute for regular servicing of appliances.

The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) said: “It is vitally important to ensure that new installations are carried out by recognised and established engineers and serviced by competent companies or individuals. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for boilers, stoves, gas fires and solid fuel room heaters.

The HSENI recommends a service at least once a year depending on the fuel being used.”