Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
We’re all aware of the danger from fire or smoke in the home but there is another less well known risk – Carbon monoxide or CO. According to statistics from CO Gas Safety* there were 28 deaths from unintentional CO poisoning in the UK in 2011. There were hundreds of non-fatal poisoning incidents. The real figures are likely to be higher due to a lack of proper reporting. There were nearly as many incidents relating to solid fuel as there were with mains gas but because the number of solid fuel users is far fewer, solid fuels represent a greater danger if things go wrong.
How does CO poisoning happen?
Carbon Monoxide is a gas which is produced by incomplete burning of any fuel. CO poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide gas is inhaled. You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide so unless you have an alarm you may be totally unaware of any problem. It can kill quickly and without warning. CO interferes with the ability of blood to carry oxygen. The symptoms of low level CO poisoning are often mistaken for flu or generally feeling run down and include headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Feeling generally unwell with no particular explanation can be a symptom of low level repeated CO poisoning.
When we burn any solid fuel, lots of CO is produced along with many other products of combustion. This is not normally a problem as all the smoke and gasses should pass harmlessly out the top of the chimney. If however the chimney is blocked or leaky, the appliance is faulty or if the ventilation to the fire is inadequate, CO gas may enter your property. This can happen in a different room from the location of the fire.
Remember, in the UK there is no requirement for someone calling themselfs a chimney sweep to have undertaken any training or be registered with any organisation whatsoever. You expect your gas engineer to be trained and registered and it is equally important that your chimney sweep is too. Please use a member of either the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps or the National Association of Chimney Sweeps. They have been properly trained, work to a code of practice and have their insurance checked each year.
What can you do to protect against CO?
- Ensure your chimney is swept regularly by a trained and registered sweep. I will make many extra checks on your chimney as standard.
- Ensure that the fire has adequate ventilation. Don’t block vents. Guild chimney sweeps are trained to check ventilation on every job and detail the results on your certificate.
- Use registered installers for fitting solid fuelled appliances.
- Fit audible Carbon Monoxide alarms