Updated on 8th December, 2022 by Martin Astley
Over the years, we’ve given you loads of information about carbon monoxide poisoning. In the spirit of Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, we’ve put together our most comprehensive guide yet on the deadly gas to keep you clued up.
What is carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas known as the “silent killer.” An odourless, colorless, tasteless, non-irritant gas that kills up to 50 Britons every year. When you inhale carbon monoxide, it displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives vital organs of it. It’s incredibly difficult to detect and therefore plenty of people inhale the gas and become poisoned without even knowing, or confuse the symptoms with other conditions.
What causes it?
Carbon monoxide is the result of the incomplete process of burning natural gases or other materials that contain carbon. It’s largely an industrial hazard but is also a product of common household appliances such as gas fires, boilers, central heating systems, water heaters, and cookers.
What are the symptoms?
These are the main symptoms to look out for if you have carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Chest pain
While it is dangerous to everyone, some people are more vulnerable than others, including:
- Babies and young children
- Pregnant women
- People with chronic heart disease
- People with respiratory problems
What should I do if I suspect someone may have it?
Firstly, call the emergency services at 999.
Secondly, analyse the scene—if the victim is in a room full of smoke, do not enter and just wait for the emergency services to arrive. If the room doesn’t appear to be full of smoke, ventilate the room first to allow gas to escape and then enter.
Thirdly, remove the victim. Take them outside into the fresh air so that their body can replace the carbon monoxide with oxygen.
Next, monitor the victim. If they are unconscious, monitor their heart rate and breathing until emergency services arrive. If they are unconscious and still breathing, put them in the recovery position. If they are unconscious but not breathing properly, you may have to perform chest compressions. Do not perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, as it may expose you to carbon monoxide.
To perform chest compressions, put your thumbs in the middle of the chest and press down at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions every minute. Continue doing so until the victim begins breathing again or until the ambulance service arrives. If you are unsure of how to perform chest compressions, the emergency services phone operator should be able to guide you through it.
You can find more information about what to do here.
Is an alarm necessary?
Yes. Depending on your home and whether or not you own it, a carbon monoxide alarm is not only necessary but also a legal requirement. They are required for houses that have either an attached garage, a fireplace, or a gas heater or appliance. So technically, your house would need to run off electricity for it to not need a detector.
While installing a carbon monoxide detector is highly recommended, the HSE warns that it should not be regarded as a substitute for proper installation and maintenance of gas appliances by a Gas Safe registered engineer. If you have gas-burning appliances on more than one floor, you will need to install a detector on each floor.
Whose responsibility is it?
Ultimately, if you live in a property that you own, it is your choice—but it is strongly recommended (for obvious reasons) that you install one. If you are a tenant in rented accommodation, it is the responsibility of your immediate landlord to have a working detector installed under The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm Regulations 2022.
Which detectors should I avoid?
A recent study by Which? revealed that 1 in 5 carbon monoxide detectors are ‘dodgy’ following an investigation. The three most dangerous were identified as:
- Binwo Carbon Monoxide Alarm: £8.99
- ATZ Saviour Carbon Monoxide Alarm: £12.99
- Mudder Carbon Monoxide Alarm: £8.99
Before buying a product, it always helps to do your research beforehand. You can find plenty of information and honest reviews online about trusted products by searching their make and/or model.
What do to if my carbon monoxide detector sounds?
Again, don’t panic. If you have the manufacturer’s manual handy, that will inform you about different sounds, sound patterns, and their meanings. Most detectors will have similar alarm sounds and meanings to those outlined in the video below:
The colorless gas carbon monoxide means it can be out of sight, but don’t let it be out of mind. Ensure your detector is regularly tested by a professional to prevent any fatalities. Carbon monoxide tests are included in our boiler breakdown cover.