The Public Health Executive is advising people to have their fossil fuel and wood burning appliances checked by an appropriately registered engineer before winter sets in.

To mark the start of Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, Public Health England (PHE) is advising people to have their fossil fuel and wood burning appliances – such as boilers, heaters and cookers – checked by an appropriately registered engineer before winter sets in.

There are around 40 accidental deaths a year from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in England and Wales. It is difficult to detect because you can’t see, smell or taste it.

Dr Simon Bouffler of PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards (CRCE) said:

“Many of these deaths take place between November and February due to faulty fossil fuel and wood burning appliances leaking this lethal gas. These deaths are preventable.

“To lower the risk, PHE recommends that people should ensure that their fossil fuel and wood burning appliances are regularly checked by an appropriately registered engineer. In addition, people should fit an audible CO alarm which meets European Standards EN 50291 in each room containing an appliance, and ensure rooms are adequately ventilated.

“Public Health England recommends that people have these appliances and their flues checked before the start of winter.”

The installation of an alarm, which can be bought from most DIY retailers and supermarkets, should not, however, replace regular servicing of all fossil fuel and wood burning appliances by a registered engineer.

It is estimated that around 4,000 people attend accident and emergency departments in England each year because of carbon monoxide poisoning. Although most of the 4,000 people would not be sick enough to be admitted to hospital, it is known that long-term exposure is associated with neurological effects – such as having difficulties in concentrating.

Dr Bouffler said:

“Although carbon monoxide is difficult to detect, there are sometimes indicators that may suggest a fault with domestic appliances or flues. The signs of trouble are black sooty marks on the radiants – the clay bars above the gas flames – of gas fires, sooty marks on the wall around stoves, boilers or fires, and smoke accumulating in rooms due to faulty flues.

“In addition, yellow instead of blue flames from gas appliances is another sign that there may be a fault with the appliance – although this does not apply to ‘fuel-effect’, ‘living-flame’ or ‘decorative-flame’ gas fires as they are designed to look like flames from solid fuel appliances.

“If you see any of these signs, turn off your appliances, open your windows and have an appropriately registered engineer check the appliance as soon as possible.”

At high levels CO poisoning can cause sudden collapse, loss of consciousness and death. Other symptoms of CO poisoning include headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, chest pains, nausea and vomiting.

If you are suffering any symptoms of CO poisoning, you should go outside and call NHS 111 for advice.