Project SHOUT reports rise in carbon monoxide poisoning

Cases of suspected carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning have increased by a third over the past five years a report by campaign group Project SHOUT has revealed.

Data from the UK Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) shows that cases rose steadily from 2450 incidents in 2014 to 3249 in 2019*. The FRS is usually one of the first emergency services on the scene in the event of a CO leak.

The worst affected regions include:

  • Cases in the South East up 415%
  • Cases in the East Anglia up 200%
  • Cases in the West Midlands up 50%
  • Cases in the North West up 50%
  • Cases in Northern Ireland up 47%
  • Cases in the East Midlands up 45%
  • Cases in the North East up 42%
  • Cases in the South West up 26%
  • Cases in London up 20%
  • Cases in Yorkshire up 6%

Wales was the only region to buck the trend, seeing a decrease of 27%

What is CO?

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that is produced when fuel doesn’t burn properly, usually from badly fitted or poorly maintained appliances. Common sources of CO are gas and oil boilers, gas hobs and fires, log burners, open fires and BBQ’s.

You can’t see, smell or taste carbon monoxide, which is why it is known as the silent killer.

The Symptoms

Common symptoms include dizziness, tiredness, headaches, nausea and generally feeling unwell. CO poisoning is often mistaken for something else such as a hangover, a common cold and the flu. The elderly and the very young are particularly vulnerable.

Staying Safe

Alarms are the only way to detect carbon monoxide. With an estimated two-thirds of homes unprotected by an alarm, around 40 million people are at risk.

Ensure CO alarms are placed in the correct locations – between 1m and 3m away from any fuel-burning appliance as well as in highly populated areas such as bedrooms and living rooms.

Purchase a CO alarm that complies with British Standard EN 50291 and carries a British or European approval mark, such as a Kitemark, to ensure you are protected.

Make sure your gas appliances are installed and serviced regularly by a qualified GAS SAFE registered engineer.

Know the symptoms. Further research by Project SHOUT has revealed that over one third (35%) of people wouldn’t recognise the symptoms of CO poisoning at all.

Test your alarm. 80% of residents in properties that DO have an alarm admit that they have no idea whether it works or not as they never test it.

Know where to put your alarm and what to do if your alarm goes off.

Key facts:

Approximately 50 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning and thousands more are treated in hospital.

Be aware that CO can enter your home from a neighbouring property. There have been instances where it has seeped through walls and killed people while they slept.

CO can poison you slowly if you’re subjected to low levels over a period of time. People often feel better when they leave the house and begin to feel worse again when returning home. It can also kill in minutes at high levels.

GP’s can misdiagnose CO poisoning, particularly as the weather turns colder and many people have colds or flu, as the symptoms are the same. Many patients are told to stay warm, stay indoors and keep the heating on, sending them straight back to the source of the poisoning.

In October 2015, legislation came into force that required private landlords to fit a carbon monoxide alarm in every property that had a solid fuel burning appliance, such as an open fire or log burner. The legislation however does NOT cover gas appliances such as a gas boiler or gas hob, something Project Shout is campaigning to change.

*The data was gathered via freedom on information requests to  Fire and Rescue Services.

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