The Silent Killer

John Stones, Managing Director of Gas Safe Europe, explains the steps managers should take to better protect residents against the threats posed by an increase in the ‘silent killer’ — carbon monoxide (CO).

Every year more than 50 people across the UK die from accidental CO poisoning.

In many cases the deaths

are avoidable, by simply having working CO alarms in place to detect and alert in the event of a problem.

However, in many cases CO alarms have been proven not to be working effectively, thus giving residents and care home providers a false sense of security. This issue was recently

If your carbon monoxide alarm sounds or you suspect a leak you should:

• Stop using all appliances and evacuate the property immediately - stay calm and avoid raising your heart rate.

• Call the gas emergency number on 0800 111 999 to report the incident - or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Gas Safety Advice Line on 0800 300 363.

• Do not go back into the property - wait for advice from the emergency services.

• Get immediate medical help - you may not realise if you’re badly affected by the carbon monoxide and going outside into fresh air won’t treat any exposure by itself.

highlighted by West Sussex Trading Standards that found as many as 80% of CO alarms did not work in a recent blind test.

To protect against faulty alarms, the new Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Regulations 2015 make it compulsory for all private sector landlords to have regularly tested smoke and CO alarms in all properties. Although care homes are currently exempt from the legislation, the advice still remains to encourage best practice in the sector.

To comply with regulations smoke alarms have to be fitted on each storey of any property, along with a CO alarm in all rooms considered to be most at risk from high CO levels, for example where a solid fuel appliance is installed.

Care home providers are advised to check that their heating systems have been correctly installed and are regularly maintained. By doing so they can provide evidence to local government officials should there be any issues experienced.

In addition,

it is best practice to ensure the smoke and CO alarms are correctly installed and in working order.

On the face of it the task seems simple enough, with a competent person required to simply “press the test button” to ensure the alarms are working effectively. Although this

may be an effective way of testing smoke alarms, it is not so simple when it comes to testing CO alarms.

In part, the issue lies with the CO alarm’s test mechanism. Simply pressing the button, as outlined in the manufacturer instructions, is no guarantee of the alarm working effectively as in itself it only tests the battery, buzzer and circuitry in the alarm but this does not however test the CO sensor or prove that contaminated air is reaching the sensor via the casing vents.

To effectively test an alarm, it’s critical that the sensor is working and is able to detect gas. Once the alarm has been checked, service providers can also provide the tester with a Triplicate Test Record Pad to evidence to local authority officials that their CO and smoke alarms have been tested and are in working order. For alarms that fail the test, a tamper-proof sticker is available to notify residents and help ensure that they are replaced and not used.

Although there is still much to be done when it comes to raising awareness of the dangers of CO, with the right testing products now available so much more can be done to protect against the potential threat from the silent killer. - 27 -

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