Carbon Monoxide

Here’s the need-to-know on the deadly carbon monoxide

carbon monoxide

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide or CO is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. It is slightly denser than air and can be poisonous. It can easily mix with other gasses that you inhale and you will not be able to detect that you are inhaling carbon monoxide.

How is it produced?

CO is a result of the incomplete burning or carbon- based fuel such as natural gas, gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal and wood. Some home and commercial appliances that are powered by internal combustion engines such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units, portable generators, cars, lawn mowers, and power washers. These machines and carbon- based fuels are safe to use. However, when the fuel does not burn properly, excess CO is produced and this can be poisonous. Gas appliances that are incorrectly installed and maintain can cause CO to leak in high levels.

How does it harm you?

Carbon monoxide is harmful when inhaled because it displaces oxygen in the blood and prevents oxygen from being supplied to the heart, brain and other vital organs. CO in large amounts can overcome a person in minutes with no warning. It can cause the person to lose consciousness and suffocate.

How many people are affected by carbon monoxide poisoning?

Every year, more than 200 people in the UK are taken to hospitals on suspected poisoning from CO. Of this number, there are about 40 deaths reported annually from CO poisoning.

What are the symptoms?

Initial symptoms when a moderate amount of CO enters one’s body include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

The following symptoms may be observed when there is a large amount of CO in the body:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Ultimately death

The severity of the symptoms vary from patient to patient will depend on the level of CO and the length of exposure to the gas. While CO poisoning can be reversed if treated early, some patients and physicians might mistake the symptoms to that of the flu. This can lead to tragic deaths.

How can you prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?

  • Ensure that installation, repair and other services done to your appliances is only carried out by a gas safe registered engineer.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s manual when operating your appliances.
  • Have your boiler service done annually. A maintenance check to other HVAC appliances is also a good precautionary measure.
  • Do not operate gasoline engine-powered tools in an enclosed room.
  • Make sure there is enough ventilation in rooms where you store your gas appliances.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector and alarm that meets that current safety regulations and standards.
  • Get your chimney cleaned annually by a qualified sweep.
  • Do not burn charcoal or other fuel-burning camping equipment inside your home, garage or any enclosed areas.
  • Do not leave your car engine running in an attached garage, even if you have the door open.
  • Do not use gas appliances such as dryers and ovens to heat your home.


What should you do when someone is experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning?

Leave the house or building immediately and go to an area outside with fresh air. Call the fire department immediately (from your neighbor’s home or using your mobile). See a doctor immediately and get a diagnosis. If you suspect that one of your appliances may be leaking carbon monoxide, call a gas safe registered engineer right away to get it checked. Turn it off for the meantime and do not use it until your engineer gives you the go signal.

Carbon monoxide alarms

CO alarms are designed to inform you when there is CO in the room before it reaches life- threatening levels. Safety standards have been continually improved to ensure the efficiency of newer models. CO alarms usually last 5 to 7 years with the batteries requiring change every year or sooner. Most alarms do not warn you when they “expire”. You should be aware of when its time to replace your alarm, otherwise you may be using an entirely useless unit. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and test your CO alarm properly to make sure it is working. Install the alarm on high walls and avoid locations near heating vents, above fuel- burning appliances and areas that can be covered by draperies or furniture.   Get professional help if you suspect a carbon monoxide leak in your home and get a gas safe registered engineer from RJ Gas.


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