Three case studies that underline the importance of carbon monoxide safety
When we hear that 50 people in the UK are killed from accidental carbon monoxide (CO) exposure every year and 200 are seriously injured, we may be tempted to dismiss these numbers – as Stalin is widely (mis)quoted as saying, one death is a tragedy, but a million deaths are a statistic.
A document by the NHS features a couple of case studies of CO poisoning incidents, but there are countless events like these every year in the UK. A similar incident could have occurred in your local area a few weeks ago – put ‘”Carbon Monoxide” [your area]’ into Google and you’ll likely find a shocking and recent story pops up.
Faulty boiler causes CO poisoning – case study
A faulty heating boiler leaked carbon monoxide into an apartment block containing six flats. The 29-year-old woman who lived in the flat with the broken boiler called for an ambulance after developing chest pains and a general feeling of malaise. The emergency services checked her out and discovered she had unusually high levels of CO in her bloodstream, as did her mother, who lived in the same property.
The apartment block was then evacuated and residents had their CO levels checked. Everyone who lived in a flat below the woman had elevated CO concentrations in their bloodstream. All afflicted parties were transported to hospital and successfully treated.
Broken boilers are an incredibly common feature of CO poisoning case studies – boilers should be serviced regularly and repaired the moment problems become apparent. A small CO leak can easily lead to a big tragedy.
Inappropriate domestic heating system causes CO poisoning – case study
The emergency services were called to a household as a two-year-old girl was unresponsive, was having difficulty breathing and was floppy – surely causing intense anxiety for the youngster’s relatives. Other family members in the property were also feeling unwell, but none were as bad as the infant. The ambulance service tested one adult and three children, discovering that all had an unusually-high concentration of CO in their bloodstream, and that the children were in a worse state than the adult.
It transpired that gas engineers had turned off the property’s heating boiler as it had been deemed to be beyond economical repair. The family had elected to use a barbecue to create heat in the main family room, and had burned charcoal on the appliance. This caused CO to fill the room and made the family ill.
Barbecues and other unventilated fuel-burning appliances must never be used indoors – to do so is dicing with death.
Carbon monoxide killed my dog
Keep your gas appliances safe
It was fortunate that these case studies did not led to the death of any humans; CO exposure can kill people in just a few minutes, and victims may be unaware that there is anything wrong until it is too late. Even low levels of exposure over a long time can cause serious damage to the brain or nervous system.
If you notice anything wrong with your boiler, you should arrange a boiler repair immediately and should not use the appliance until you are confident that the problem has been resolved. You should also have gas appliances serviced once a year, so a Gas Safe-registered engineer can determine if the appliance is safe to use.
Kevin Burke writes articles on health and safety for boiler breakdown cover company 247 Home Rescue, which can arrange boiler repairs and gas appliance services on your behalf.