The Gas Safety Trust has published its 18th annual report into accidental carbon monoxide poisoning cases associated with mains natural gas and LPG. Overall, 29 incidents were reported in the last year, which resulted in three deaths and 58 further non-fatal casualties.
Carbon monoxide gas is produced when fuels, including coal and natural gas, burn incompletely. Under normal circumstances coal, oil and gas would burn to produce carbon dioxide (CO2), which is relatively harmless except in high concentrations. CO is produced where there is not enough oxygen for fuel to burn properly.
CO gas is extremely poisonous. At lower levels it tends to cause headaches, nausea, dizziness and tiredness. At higher concentrations it rapidly causes seizures, unconsciousness and death. Young children and pregnant women are particularly at risk, as are those with heart and breathing problems.
Overall, the number of fatalities has fallen significantly in the past few years, from a peak of 24 deaths in the late 1990s. The chief cause of problems lies in obstructed flues, and regular maintenance is recommended. In particular, this year a large number of issues occurred when space heaters were discovered to have flues blocked with debris.
Chris Bielby, GST chair, commented, “The 2013/14 annual report demonstrates a continuing trend of improved gas safety in the mains natural gas and piped LPG sectors. I am delighted to see the reduced number of fatalities and injuries, but urge the industry not to be complacent. There is no doubt that we need to remain vigilant to ensure this trend continues and factors such as operative competence, having a CO alarm and regularly servicing and maintaining of appliances is essential in that respect.”
Diane Parker, head of personal injury at Atherton Godfrey, said: “There are strict health and safety measures in place to guard against CO poisoning. Where there has been a blatant disregard for safety, and that has resulted in injury, then those in breach can be legally held to account.”
Anyone who suspects they are suffering from CO poisoning should leave the affected room and seek medical attention immediately. Treatment usually involves being given pure oxygen until the number of compromised blood cells falls to safe levels.
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