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Health & Safety Matters: Dramatic rise in carbon monoxide deaths

Is the industry doing enough to reduce the danger posed by carbon monoxide, asks Bob Towse, head of technical and safety at the HVCA
MANY people must have been stunned to learn that cases of carbon monoxide poisoning rose by 48% in the first four months of this year.

CO is one of those issues, like Legionnaires' disease, that raises its ugly head once in a while and then it all goes quiet again - at least as far as the national press is concerned.

Yet between January last year and April 2007 there were 102 CO poisoning incidents leading to 50 deaths and 218 serious injuries, according to research carried out by CORGI.

In fact, the casualty figures are probably far higher because there is no central reporting of carbon monoxide accidents and doctors often mis-diagnose its serious brain and nervous system symptoms as MS or ME.

Campaign group CO-Gas Safety has been gathering data for 12 years and believes at least 500 people have died from CO poisoning since 1995.


CORGI believes many of the cases can be traced to faulty work carried out by some of the 10,000 'illegal' gas workers operating in the UK market inon CORGI-registered).

However, CO-Gas Safety president Stephanie Trotter says it is not as easy as that. Her organisation's research shows that only 8% of cases can be traced to work carried out by so-called 'illegals'. Some 45% are put down to owner/operator error and things like blocked flues and chimneys. Leaving us to wonder about who is responsible for the other 47% of cases.

CORGI's report revealed that one in ten gas appliances in the worst affected areas of the country - Yorkshire, Wales, the North East and the Midlands - have never been serviced and one in five are safety checked only every five years. And, while more than 90% of UK homes now has a smoke detector, three quarters of homes do not have a CO alarm.

Vigilant

The bona fide registered installation industry cannot afford to be complacent about this issue. Firms need to be part of the campaign to improve public awareness of the dangers posed by either incorrectly installed or poorly serviced gas appliances. They must also be vigilant and prepared to report when they come across work carried out by illegal/incompetent installers.

However, they must also remain on top of their own skills to ensure safety checks are carried out on their own work and customers are properly informed about the risks and the possible remedies if they suspect a problem.

An Early Day Motion designed to tackle the issue was introduced into the House of Commons earlier this year and attracted the support of more than 100 MPs.

Among other things, its proposer South East Cornwall MP Colin Breed highlighted the continuing lack of industry and government action


'People are dying through ignorance of the dangers on the one hand while government and industry refuse to provide a satisfactory high impact awareness campaign on the other,' he told Parliament.

'Unbelievably I have been campaigning with CO Gas Safety on this issue for nearly 10 years; it shouldn't take high profile tragedies, of which we have had many, to breathe life into this problem.'

Way back in 2000, the Health and Safety Commission proposed a modest levy on fuel suppliers to pay for a high profile public awareness campaign - rather like those successfully produced to warn against the danger of fire and to promote energy efficient behaviour in the home.

Yet, today we are no further forward and CO-Gas Safety cannot even find the finance it has asked for to make a public information film or to publicise a schools poster competition.

Government can drive the improvement in public awareness with finance from fuel suppliers - tax payers should not be expected to pay for this when big business is making massive profits from the supply of gas, oil and solid fuel.

The appliance installation sector must then make sure it is able to provide the technical expertise to eliminate this senseless killer once and for all.


For more information
contact Bob Towse on 020 7313 4928 (btowse@hvca.org.uk)
1 August 2007

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