Preventing the silent killer: Carbon monoxide-Awareness
Carbon monoxide is undetectable, yet the most common cause of poisoning in the UK. CO-Awareness was founded to educate people on the life-threatening potential this poison has. How safe is your home and family?
As President and Founder of Carbon monoxide-Awareness, a registered charity and founder of the national CO-Awareness Week, Lynn Griffiths knows only too well the silent dangers of carbon monoxide. Lynn and her children were poisoned by carbon monoxide (CO) for over a decade, with devastating effects on family-life. CO-Awareness support those poisoned by CO, their families and careers - the campaign by Carbon Monoxide Awareness is supported by Merseyside Fire and Rescue.
What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is produced when fossil fuels burn without enough air, usually as a result of poor maintenance of central heating boilers and appliances, such as liquefied petroleum gas, or kerosene-powered fridges, heaters or cookers. It also becomes a major problem when flues become partially or wholly blocked.
Do not use heaters or cooking appliances that produce yellow instead of mostly blue flames. Malfunctioning appliances should be turned off and not used again until they have been checked and made safe by a registered engineer.
Carbon monoxide is the most common poison in the UK today. Carbon monoxide poisoning reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood and so starves vital organs of oxygen. The symptoms worsen as more carbon monoxide is breathed in and CO concentrations in the blood increase.
It is something which many families still know so little about. CO-Awareness is keen to work with as many different organisations as possible to help prevent CO deaths and injuries from this silent killer, and strongly believe that by working together many deaths and long term suffering can be prevented.
Many organisations have occasion to send staff into peoples homes with no protection from carbon monoxide. Some councils will write to members of the public asking that they do not smoke before a member of staff visits them. You can smell cigarette smoke and choose not to enter that home, but you cannot smell carbon monoxide. People with milder symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning usually begin to recover when they leave the contaminated area and move into fresh air, but exposure to high levels of CO can kill.
An example of the devastating effects of carbon monoxide poisoning has been reported in the Scottish press. A man took his still smouldering barbecue inside his van for added warmth whilst attending a motorcycle event, was overcome by fumes whilst he slept, and died in hospital four days later.
Anyone who suspects they may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning should immediately turn off all appliances, go outside and seek medical help from a qualified healthcare professional or, if in the UK, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
- Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) powered appliances should be serviced by a Gas Safe registered engineer who is qualified to work with LPG
- Solid fuel appliances should be serviced by a solid fuel HETAS registered engineer
- Oil fuelled appliances should be serviced by an OFTEC registered engineer
- For their personal safety, holiday-makers should buy an audible carbon monoxide alarm that meets British or European Standards (EN 50291)
Education is Key
Knowledge is crucial in preventing carbon monoxide poisoning, and we can do this through education. In most cases of accidental poisoning, victims do not realise that CO was being produced or building up in the air they were breathing. Everyone needs to know about the dangers of CO and how to protect themselves from this silent killer. The older generation - those with heart and lung problems, pregnant mothers, unborn babies, and young children are all particularly vulnerable to CO dangers.
The general public, medical profession (including testing at post-mortems) and industry need to take this issue more seriously. In addition, 97,400 (census 2001) children under the age of 16 look after their loved ones at home, and the National Curriculum could do so much more to teach children about CO as a key life skill.
Carbon monoxide-Awareness is calling on all schools, universities, colleges, builders, R.S.Ls, letting agents, councils, environmental health agencies, architects, manufactures of fire-places, boilers and heaters, registered engineers, training bodies, universities, fire and rescue services, PCTs. hospitals, paramedics, GPs, nurses, health visitors, the emergency services, gas, oil, wood and coal suppliers, local and national press, TV, radio and the Government to back our CO-Awareness Campaign to help educate the general public about the dangers of Carbon Monoxide. Please help us to make every area in the UK a safer place to live by helping us to educate families all over the UK about the dangers of CO.
Carbon Monoxide Awareness is urging holiday-makers to pack an audible carbon monoxide alarm before heading off on their summer break - it could save your life. Carbon monoxide poisoning causes in the region of 50 deaths in England and Wales every year and there are numerous near misses, many of which go unreported.
Carbon Monoxide Awareness President Lynn Griffiths said: "There have been a number of tragedies and numerous near-misses in this country and abroad in recent years. No one should take it for granted that their hotel room, holiday home, caravan or canal boat is safe.
"Audible CO alarms don't cost much and could be the best investment any holiday maker ever makes. They can be bought from any hardware store or supermarket and they're small enough to fit easily into a suitcase.
"Carbon monoxide produced by faulty, poorly maintained or poorly ventilated fossil fuel appliances can quickly build up to levels that can kill in confined spaces such as hotel rooms, caravans, boats and holiday homes.
"Even at lower levels, carbon monoxide causes symptoms that are similar to flu or food poisoning, including headaches, tiredness, nausea and difficulty in thinking clearly.
"Without an audible CO alarm it is unlikely that holiday-makers will even know that they are being poisoned by this deadly gas. Carbon monoxide is colourless and has no taste or smell so there are few warning signs when it's around."
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