Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

I have just read that the number of carbon monoxide poisoning incidents has increased over last year. The reason isn’t entirely clear but I will offer two suggestions.

Firstly, the exceptionally cold winter. Nearly all carbon monoxide poisoning is from open-flued appliances such as gas fires. These require a through-flow of fresh air from outside. Natural ventilation which may be tolerated during a mild winter suddenly becomes an icy blast. I saw several incidents last year where people had taped up air bricks and tried to seal every available gap around the doors and windows.

the need to keep going for refresher courses and paying out extortionate fees for registering has pushed out perfectly competent fitters…

Secondly, the cost of having a Gas Safe engineer out to service the appliance has risen because many people, such as me for example, who are not specialising in gas work find the Gas Safe registration and training courses too onerous for the amount of gas work I do. At most I may install five boilers a year and service another ten. This does not justify registration so I now end up getting them done by a sub-contractor.

I am all for safety but the need to keep going for refresher courses and paying out extortionate fees for registering has pushed out perfectly competent fitters and given those left in the game the opportunity to charge more. I don’t blame them for this because they have to cover the cost of all those courses. As with so many things it is the poor who suffer particularly those in fuel poverty because they either forgo the annual service or use an unregistered service engineer who may or may not know what he/she is doing.

My proposal is that the HSE lets people who prove their competence through an exam register for a small fee. We would then pay a notification fee to Gas Safe for each appliance we work on. This would mean that those who did a small amount of work would not have to pay a disproportionate fee.

All gas work would be subjected to random inspections by local safety inspectors who would be paid out of that fund. Any installation that didn’t pass a safety test would be shut down and the installer sent for training or banned according to the severity. At present, there is a voluntary scheme where a household can nominate their gas work for random inspection. This leaves the householder feeling as if they are snitching on the installer (because the installer is informed by Gas Safe) and the installer may therefore by reluctant to return for annual servicing.

If there were a duty on the householder to send off the registration card this would protect the consumer from such accusations and make sure that all gas work is subjected to random inspection. I am sure there are reasons why this would not work and there are those out there who may think it is no better than the system we have right now but if the number of deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning is increasing then it is clear that something isn’t working.

Another idea I will put up for discussion is for Gas companies to offer free service and safety checks to the elderly.


The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are not always obvious, particularly during low-level exposure.

A tension-type headache is the most common symptom of mild carbon monoxide poisoning.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Dizziness
  • Feeling and being sick
  • Tiredness and confusion
  • Stomach pain
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing

The symptoms of exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can be similar to those of food poisoning and flu.

But unlike flu, carbon monoxide poisoning does not cause a high temperature.

The symptoms can gradually get worse with prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide, leading to a delay in diagnosis.

Your symptoms may be less severe when you’re away from the source of the carbon monoxide.

If this is the case, you should investigate the possibility of a carbon monoxide leak and ask a suitably qualified professional to check any appliances you think may be faulty and leaking gas.

The longer you inhale the gas, the worse your symptoms will be. You may lose balance, vision and memory and, eventually, you may lose consciousness.

This can happen within 2 hours if there’s a lot of carbon monoxide in the air.


About Roger Bisby

Roger Bisby is an English television presenter and journalist, known for his expertise in the British building industry.

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