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Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and how to prevent it

​What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is released when a carbon-containing fuel doesn’t burn fully because not enough air is available. Carbon containing fuels include:

  • gas
  • oil
  • coal
  • coke
  • petrol
  • wood 

This can happen when appliances such as room and water heaters, fires and cookers have been wrongly installed or poorly maintained, or when a chimney, flue or air vent into the room such as an air brick has been fully or partially blocked.

Chimneys and open fires (fire safety)

Can carbon monoxide kill?

Accidental exposure to CO kills more than 50 people each year in England and Wales. It can kill without warning, sometimes in a matter of minutes. Low levels that don’t kill you can still cause serious harm.

How do I protect myself from carbon monoxide poisoning? 

There are many ways to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning, such as:

  • fit an audible CO alarm that meets European Standard EN 50291, showing a British Standards Kitemark or LPCB (Loss Prevention Certification Board) logo
  • make sure that you follow the alarm manufacturer’s instructions for installation and maintenance
  • you can also buy CO detection patches and ‘black-spot’ indicators, but these will not wake you and warn you if dangerous levels of CO develop
  • have all appliances, flues and chimneys correctly installed and serviced by trained, reputable, registered and competent engineers – do not attempt to do this yourself
  • if you're going on holiday you may wish to take a battery-operated audible CO alarm with you

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

CO poisoning can be difficult to detect, because its symptoms are the same as those of many other common ailments. You may experience:

  • headaches
  • tiredness
  • difficulty thinking clearly
  • feeling sick

Sometimes it may feel as though you have food poisoning or that you are coming down with flu. You may also notice that the symptoms are less severe if you are away from your property.

Those most vulnerable to the effects of CO poisoning are:

  • older people
  • pregnant women and their babies
  • children
  • those with breathing problems or heart disease

What should I do if I think I may have a carbon monoxide leak?

 If you think you may have a CO leak you should:

  • turn off all appliances that use fuel other than electricity
  • open the windows  
  • leave the room
  • see a doctor at once
  • call a suitably qualified engineer to check all your appliances
  • if you rent a property, your landlord should be able to assist in resolving the matter  
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