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Carbon Monoxide - The Silent Killer

24th October 2006

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) today issued a warning about the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. As the cold weather approaches, it has urged homeowners and landlords to ensure that their gas appliances are safe to use.

Geoffrey Podger, HSE Chief Executive, said: "Fuel gas is safe, but if appliances are not properly installed and adequately maintained by a competent CORGI-registered installer, the gas may not burn properly meaning CO fumes are released. Approximately 20 people die each year from CO poisoning associated with gas appliances, a figure that could be reduced if people understood the risks and took sensible precautions."

You cannot see, smell or taste CO fumes leaving anyone exposed feeling unwell. In the worst situations, CO can kill without warning in just hours.

In addition to getting appliances checked, it is also important to ensure they are used correctly. When used, appliances must have access to a good supply of fresh air: CO is produced when there isn't enough air for complete burning of the fuel.

Moreover, never use a gas appliance if you think it's not working properly. Signs to look out for on boilers, fires and cookers include:
* yellow or orange flames (except for fuel-effect fires which display this colour flame);
* soot or stains around the appliance; and
* a pilot light that frequently blows out.

Approved CO detectors are strongly recommended, although these must not be used as a substitute for regular checks and servicing by a CORGI-registered installer.

Symptoms of CO poisoning can include tiredness, drowsiness, headaches and breathlessness. If you believe CO may be causing you problems seek urgent medical advice.

Further information on gas safety and the risks to health is available from a number of sources. HSE's Gas Safety Advice line is available on 0800 300 363. For health issues and symptoms: NHS Direct (England and Wales) 08454647 or (Scotland) 0800 224488, or www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk To find a Corgi-registered gas installer visit Corgi's website at: www.corgi-gas-safety.com or call 0870 401 2300.

For suspected gas leaks, contact the National Gas Emergency Service:
0800 111 999.

Gas companies offer certain vulnerable groups a free annual gas safety check of gas appliances. More details are available from Energy Watch 0845 906 0708, or at: www.energywatch.org.uk/

Every year about 20-30 people die from CO poisoning associated with domestic gas appliances, due mainly to these appliances not having been properly installed or maintained. HSE and Local Authorities enforce the Gas Safety Installation and Use Regulations 1998 in domestic and commercial premises. These regulations place
responsibilities on a wide range of people, including those installing, servicing, maintaining or repairing gas appliances and other gas fittings; as well as suppliers and users of gas systems/appliances. Statutory obligations are placed on landlords to
maintain gas appliances that they own.

An analysis of gas incidents over the eight years to 31 March 2004 shows that 64 per cent of fatalities were attributed to the action or lack of action of an occupier or a relative.

The law requires that anyone who works on gas appliances must be competent, and if they are doing the work as a business, i.e. employer or self-employed, they must be CORGI registered. An installer's CORGI ID card has details of the types of appliances thatan installer is trained to work on.

A HSE gas safety review, announced on 15 February 2006
see www.hse.gov.uk/press/2006/e06014.htm , builds on the HSC Fundamental
Review of Gas Safety in 2000. HSE recognises that time has moved on, particularly in the light of HSC's 'Strategy for Workplace Health and Safety in Great Britain to 2010 and beyond', published in February 2004.

Further information on domestic gas safety issues can be found on the HSE web site at www.hse.gov.uk/gas/domestic/index.htm

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