So, one night about two weeks ago, I’m in bed, it’s 10pm at night, the children are asleep, LSH is out for a meal with his work colleagues, and I am just about drifting off to sleep… When I hear a “beep”, just a single, sharp, beep. I try to ignore it, but it goes again, insistently. I sit up, and realise it’s either one of our smoke alarms or the Carbon Monoxide alarm, telling me that it’s battery is running low and needs replacing as soon as possible. I got up, and went to investigate, and discovered it was our CO alarm that was beeping. I removed the battery, stuck it by the front door, with a post it note on it, to remind me to get a new battery the next day. We actually have two alarms in our home, so I wasn’t worried about any problems occurring overnight and us not being woken by an alarm, because the other one was still working.
CO or Carbon Monoxide is a very dangerous gas, because it has no odour, no taste, and we don’t know it’s in the air, until we either feel very unwell, from its effects, or could even dying from CO poisoning. I have always been “paranoid” about CO, having seen a family brought into the hospital where I did my first adult nursing experience, all suffering from the effects of CO poisoning, and very unwell. Thankfully, they were all ok, but only because a relative had called on their house, and had been worried when they had no response, had used the spare key to get in and found them all unconscious and called ambulances to come and help.
Millions still at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning
Today, the Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! Campaign has published worrying new research that shows that at least 35 million people across Great Britain are still at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Despite 81% of people knowing that carbon monoxide can kill, just 4 in 10 (39%) say they have carbon monoxide alarms in their homes.
This figure is low, but research suggests the real figure may be even lower – with some studies putting the number of homes with alarms at just 1 in 10*.
As carbon monoxide has no taste, smell or colour, the only way to detect it is with an audible alarm, that sounds when the gas is present. The research also uncovered a concerning amount of confusion over which alarms to use – with 42% of those without carbon monoxide alarms saying this is because they have a smoke alarm in their homes.
* In a study, published by LiverpoolJohnMooresUniversity in May 2012, fire fighters conducted checks at 22,182 properties across Merseyside. 90.2% of the properties did not have carbon monoxide alarms.
Five steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
- Fit a carbon monoxide alarm in your home that sounds when the gas is present. This will only take a few minutes and should be done in a central location in the house. The alarm can be fixed to the wall at head height or placed on a table, bookshelf or shelf. Further details are at: www.co-bealarmed.co.uk
- Have fuel-burning appliances serviced annually by a qualified and registered engineer.
- Don’t block ventilation and have chimneys swept at least once a year.
- Know the main symptoms: headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness, collapsing and loss of consciousness. Keys signs are if symptoms clear up when you are away from home and come back when you return, or if other people in your household experience similar symptoms.
- Watch out for soot or yellow/brown staining on or around your appliance, a lazy yellow / orange coloured gas flame rather than a sharp blue one or pilot lights which blow out frequently.
About carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide has no colour, taste or smell, meaning installing an audible alarm, that sounds when carbon monoxide is present, is the only way to ensure a household is protected. Carbon Monoxide alarms are a similar size to smoke alarms, and only take a few minutes to fit.
Carbon monoxide is produced when fuels such as gas, oil, charcoal, coal and wood do not burn completely. The most common cause of this is when an appliance, such as a boiler or cooker, is installed incorrectly or poorly maintained. Carbon monoxide can also build up when flues, chimneys or vents are blocked.
The Department of Health estimates that 50 people are killed by carbon monoxide poisoning, and at least 4,000 are treated in hospital, in the UK each year. However, the figure is likely to be much higher than this, as carbon monoxide poisoning is very difficult to diagnose as symptoms are often similar to common illnesses like flu and food poisoning.
About the campaign
Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! is the national campaign to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by carbon monoxide. The campaign is run by Energy UK on behalf of Britain’s six major gas and electricity companies in partnership with the Dominic Rodgers Trust, and is supported by more than 40 other organisations.