It’s that time of year, the weather is cold and wild outside and we are all spending more time snuggled in our homes with the central heating on and fires roaring.
Cosy in our safe havens, the majority of us will be totally unaware that our lives could be in danger.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a silent killer. It is produced when hydrocarbon fuels burn without enough air, usually as a result of poor maintenance/servicing of central heating boilers, fires or cookers. It also becomes a major problem when flues/chimneys become partially or wholly blocked. Unfortunately many people across Wales still do not know enough about its dangers and it continues to claims lives or leave people with long-term chronic health problems.
It is a toxic gas, but, being colorless, odorless, tasteless, and initially non-irritating, it is very difficult for people to detect.
Early symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are similar to common ailments such as food poisoning, viral infections, flu or simple tiredness. These may include headache, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, aching muscles, difficulty breathing, vision changes, dizziness, vertigo and pins and needles. Judgement is impaired and the victim may go through emotional changes and become confused and clumsy. If the victim doesn't leave the toxic environment, loss of consciousness, coma and death may follow. Anyone who suspects they may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning should immediately turn off all appliances, go outside and seek medical help from a qualified healthcare professional.
Carbon Monoxide alarms cost very little, yet save lives.
Speaking in the Welsh Parliament before Christmas, I stressed that currently 60 people a year are killed by carbon monoxide poisoning and thousands are hospitalised, and expressed concern that currently there are no legal requirements for carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in rented accommodation. I called on the Welsh Government to change this.
I was therefore extremely pleased to receive correspondence from the Housing Minister last week revealing that new regulations set to be implemented as part of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 will include additional requirements for landlords to install working carbon monoxide alarms, smoke alarms and undertake an electrical safety test at least every five years.
With specific regard to carbon monoxide detectors, at least one will be required in any room which has a gas, oil or solid fuel burning appliance. Failure, by a landlord, to comply with this requirement will mean the dwelling is considered unfit for human habitation, regardless of any other actions taken by the landlord.
This is great news and will hopefully save many lives, but it is not just landlords who should be installing these vital devices – we all should be.
I would urge anyone who doesn’t already have Carbon Monoxide detectors installed in their homes to go out and buy one now – it could be the best investment you ever make – although, remember, alarms are no substitute for regular inspection and maintenance of appliances, vents, flues and chimneys.