Safety reminder: Carbon monoxide, the silent killer

Fri 18 Nov, 2016

With the risk of accidental exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide increasing at this time of year, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service is raising awareness of the “silent killer”.

The warning comes as a curtain-raiser to the 11th annual Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, a national campaign which starts on Monday 21 November.

Group Commander Richard Priest, head of the organisation’s community safety team, said: “Many of the steps people can take to reduce the risk of a fire in their home will also help reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

“About 50 people die each year in the UK as a direct result of exposure to carbon monoxide gas. Many more die through strokes and respiratory illness made worse by inhaling low levels of carbon monoxide over prolonged periods, and still more are left with chronic after-effects.

“Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that is very hard to detect because it is odourless, colourless and tasteless. It can be given off by any appliance that burns gas, coal, oil or wood.”

Richard offered this advice for people who are worried about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

You are at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning if:

  • Your appliance was poorly installed.
  • Your appliance is not working properly.
  • Your appliance has not been checked for safety or maintained regularly.
  • There is not enough fresh air in the room.
  • Your chimney or flue gets blocked (for example, by a bird's nest).
  • You allow engineers who are not registered with the Gas Safe Register (see bottom of page) to install or maintain your appliance(s).
  • You leave your car engine running in a garage or other enclosed space.

Appliance warning signs

  • Gas flames burn orange or yellow instead of blue.
  • Stains, soot or discolouring are visible around fire or water heater.
  • An unusual smell when the appliance is on.
  • Solid fuel appliances that burn slowly, or go out.
  • The fire is difficult to light.
  • Pilot light frequently blows out.
  • Increased condensation inside the window.

Physical signs - the six main symptoms


  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Breathlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Collapse
  • Loss of consciousness

If you think you have any of the symptoms

  • Get to fresh air immediately.
  • Open doors and windows to ventilate the room.
  • Turn off all appliances and do not reuse.
  • Visit your GP urgently.
  • Contact an installer/technician registered with the Gas Safe Register to inspect any defective fuel burning appliance and get your chimney/flue (smoke duct in a chimney) inspected.

Safety tips

  • Make sure chimneys and flues are regularly swept by a competent sweeper.
  • Boilers and heating systems and appliances should be installed, maintained and regularly serviced by a competent engineer (for gas appliances, make sure they are registered with the Gas Safe Register).
  • Never use a barbecue indoors - the charcoal gives off carbon monoxide.
  • It is best to buy appliances from reputable dealers. Make sure they fit the appropriate British or European safety requirements.
  • Avoid buying second-hand appliances - if you do, make sure they have been tested for safety.
  • Insist on a guarantee from the dealer and a copy of the user instructions.
  • Never install or reconnect an appliance yourself.
  • By law, gas appliances must be fitted and maintained by an installer who is registered with the Gas Safe Register.
  • Have all your gas appliances serviced regularly by an installer registered with the Gas Safe Register - once a year for gas fires and boilers. Ensure this includes a safety check to make sure flues are working properly.
  • Ventilation is vital - never obstruct or block any vent.
  • Make sure heaters are well clear of curtains, furniture and bedding.

Advice when moving into new accommodation

  • Ask to see a copy of the current Gas Landlords Certificate. This is a record of safety checks carried out.
  • Ensure the safety checks were carried out by an engineer registered with the Gas Safe Register.
  • Do not use any gas appliances that you think may be unsafe.
  • Do not attempt DIY work on appliances.

Fitting a carbon monoxide detector

  • Carbon monoxide detectors should comply with British Standard BS 7860.
  • They should be used as early warning indicators only - they are not a substitute for regular servicing.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors should not be installed near smoke alarms or fuel-burning appliances.
  • One detector should be installed at knee height near the sleeping area of your home.
  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper use and maintenance.
  • Use detectors as warnings only - do not replace regular checks with detectors.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors do not replace the need for smoke detectors.

For more information about the Gas Safe Register, which replaced CORGI gas registration in Great Britain in 2009, visit