What is carbon monoxide and how can I protect my family against it?


What is Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning?

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can be fatal or cause permanent damage to your health. CO is produced when carbon fuels don’t burn completely. It has no smell or taste and, in large quantities, it can kill very quickly.

Where does Carbon monoxide come from?

Carbon monoxide can be produced in any fuel-burning appliance that is not properly maintained. Users of oil-fired appliances are less likely to be at risk than those using solid fuels or gas, but CO poisoning can still occur if oil-fired systems are poorly maintained or installed incorrectly.

What are the symptoms of Carbon monoxide poisoning?

The symptoms usually associated with Carbon monoxide poisoning include tiredness, muscle pains, upset stomach, dizziness and headaches. If you are suffering from an unexplained illness that includes some or all of these symptoms, it may be wise to go to your doctor and ask for a carbon monoxide test. Go straight to the doctor because the Carbon monoxide in your blood will soon drop once you are outside and your doctor may not detect it.

Who is at risk of Carbon monoxide poisoning?

Anyone can be poisoned by CO. However, some individuals are more at risk than others. These include young children, the elderly, students, people with anaemia and those with heart and lung diseases. And pregnant women risk damage to their unborn child from CO.

What can I do to prevent Carbon monoxide poisoning?

The most important thing you can do is to buy a CO alarm which can detect low levels of the gas. By fitting a CO alarm and carrying out all the safety checks, you can be sure that you are protected.

Regular maintenance is also important. Do you know when your appliance was last checked? Don’t leave it to chance, have you oil-fired system serviced annually by an OFTEC registered technician. You can also do some simple maintenance yourself. Make sure your chimney flue isn’t blocked and consider fitting a guard to stop it becoming blocked by, for example, birds nesting in it. If you have plants growing up your outside walls, make sure they aren’t blocking the flue. It is very important to get your chimney flue checked.

It is also worth considering whether there is enough ventilation in your home. Check that any airbricks aren’t blocked.

What should I do if I think I may have a leak?

If you think there is a carbon monoxide leak in your home, you should leave the property immediately and contact the free 24 hour national emergency line 0800 111 999 straight away. If you or anyone affected has the symptoms described above get urgent medical attention from your GP or A&E department.

Further Information

Look after your oil tank

Buying group guidance