Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Signs To Watch Out For

Since September 1st 2014 carbon monoxide alarms are compulsory in all homes in Ireland. This new legal requirement, for the use and installation of stoves and heaters in buildings, will require householders to ensure alarms are fitted when the following are installed:

  • New or replacement boilers.
  • Fires
  • Heaters
  • Stoves

Building firms are now also required to make sure these alarms are fitted in any new homes that they produce.

This change along with the Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, running since 2012, is being supported by both the government and organisations active in energy and related industries to educate the general public about the dangers of this "silent killer".

According to the HSE an average of 40 people die each year due to the effects of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Perhaps that is why the 2014 slogan for the campaign is "Remember, Remember, Remember".

So let’s have a look at what you need to remember about carbon monoxide.

What buildings are affected?
There is no one type of building that is uniquely affected by carbon monoxide so it can affect people in their homes, holiday homes or even places of work.
What are the causes of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide is caused when carbon fuels such as coal, wood, gas, petrol or oil do not have enough oxygen to burn completely.Usually associate with faulty or poorly serviced heating appliances, as well as lack of proper ventilation, the effects can strike without warning leaving those affected exposed.
What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
As the gas released is odorless and colorless the effects can sometimes be mistaken for colds or flu but without a fever. If you are affected you may experience some of the following symptoms:
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
How do I know if I have faulty appliances?
There are certain tell tale signs that you should be weary of including:
  • Yellow or orange, rather than blue flames (with exception of decorative gas fires).
  • An unsteady or low/poor gas appliance burner flame.
  • Soot or yellow/brown staining around or on appliances.
  • An unusual pungent odour when the appliance is operating.
  • Pilot lights that frequently blow out.
  • Increased condensation inside windows.
Because carbon monoxide is odourless and colourless it is considered nearly undetectable without some assistance from a monitor of some type. Many times it is not just faulty appliances that can cause the gas to build up as improper use of heating appliances coupled with blocked flues or chimneys can also be a contributing factor. Make sure you check that you are not blocking anything important during redevelopment or refurbishment work.
How can I reduce the risk of the effects of carbon monoxide?
First thing you should to do is purchase and install a "European Standard EN 50291" carbon monoxide alarm. A quick search online, or in your local hardware store, and you should be able to locate one. Make sure it has a "CE mark" as well as a mark of independent certification (e.g. Kitemark). It should also be marked with an "end of life" indicator.
Next thing you should do is have your boiler serviced by a registered gas installer. You can find a list of registered installers on www.rgii.ie or by clicking on this link.
Finally make sure you check all vents and flues for visible blockages.

The threat of carbon monoxide poisoning is well documented via the annual carbon monoxide week but make sure you are aware of the signs and symptoms all year round. If you do suspect a gas leak of any sort make sure you:

  • Check gas appliances are turned off.
  • Don’t smoke or use naked flame
  • Don’t unplug or switch anything electrical on or off
  • If the smell persists turn off the gas at the meter. You should contact BORD GÁIS or relevant supplier on their dedicated emergency numbers. Make sure that you don’t use a phone in the immediate area of the leak. It is best to call from outside or to use your neighbour’s phone.