Research* shows over a third of homeowners still haven't installed a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm, with more than half of those saying they don't believe detectors are important. A further one in ten could not identify the purpose of a CO alarm.
The warning comes as part of this year's Carbon Monoxide Awareness Month (November 2020), a national campaign highlighting the potential health risks of CO poisoning which kills over 50 people and hospitalises more than 4,000 every year.
Concern is heightened this winter with people spending more time working remotely at home which means heating systems are being used more frequently.
CO is an odourless, colourless gas that can be very difficult to detect which is why it is often referred to as a 'silent killer'. It is produced when carbon fuels don't burn properly and can be emitted by any type of fossil fuel heating system.
The long-term impact of CO poisoning is still relatively unknown as it can be difficult to diagnose but severe cases can cause significant health problems and even death with younger and older people most at risk. The warning signs to look out for are tiredness, dizziness and headaches.
In support of this year's campaign, OFTEC, the trade association for rural heating, has outlined the steps households should take to protect themselves, including:
- Be Alarmed – CO Alarms should be to British Standard EN 50291 and can be purchased for less than £20 and should be installed in every room which has a fuel burning appliance, such as a boiler or woodburner. It is mandatory for private landlords to provide an alarm in rooms which have a solid fuel burning appliance (such as an open fire). The government encourages landlords to install detectors in other rooms with alternative heating sources such as a gas and oil boilers.
- Check the batteries – CO alarms should be regularly inspected to ensure they are working properly by pressing the 'test button' and clearing out any dust or debris which could impact how they function. You should also check the alarm can be heard in upstairs bedrooms in case people are sleeping when it sounds. To prevent 'false alarms', ensure they are located as per the manufacturer's instructions.
- Know what to do – if your CO alarm does sound, the advice is to open the windows and leave the room immediately. Once safe, you should contact GasSafe or OFTEC. If you experience any symptoms of CO poisoning or have vulnerable people in your house, call 999 immediately.
Malcolm Farrow from OFTEC said: "Whilst smoke alarms are a common sight in our homes, there continues to be a lack of awareness over the risks associated with CO poisoning. With the weather turning colder and heating systems now being switched on for longer, especially as more of us now work from home, the dangers this year are higher.
"The long term effects of CO poisoning can be devasting but fortunately there are simple steps we can all take to protect ourselves. Through supporting CO Awareness Month, we want the installation of CO detectors to be viewed with equal importance as having a working smoke alarm. But remember, installing a CO alarm is no substitute for having heating equipment inspected and serviced at least annually by a competent technician. We urge others to support this campaign and spread the important safety message."
*Carbon Monoxide Awareness, HPM Monthly, 2018