Don't make the mistake of confusing carbon monoxide poisoning with a simple hangover

You know that feeling. Dry mouth, splitting headache, nausea... Another bad hangover? Or could it be something more sinister? After all, you don’t usually suffer like this…

Gas cooker

Carbon monoxide the silent killer

If you have a faulty heating or cooking appliance in your home, these classic hangover symptoms could actually be caused by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CO is a silent killer: you cannot smell it, taste it or see it. But it can be lethal. 

“[Many people are] unaware of just how quickly CO can kill – less than 2% of CO in the air can kill in between one and three minutes,” says Stephanie Trotter OBE, president and director of CO-Gas Safety.

You’ve probably read stories about deaths caused by CO poisoning, such as when people have brought a barbecue into their tent to keep warm or have been using a faulty boiler at home. 

Those cases tend to grab the headlines, but what’s not so well known are the dangers posed by long-term low-level exposure to CO.

Is your student house carbon monoxide safe?

A faulty gas fire, wood-burner or boiler can produce levels of CO that do not necessarily kill, but can cause serious damage to your body. 

Long-term low levels of exposure can cause permanent health problems including loss of memory, problems with language, mood swings and a change in behaviour. 

What to do if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Leave the house
  • Call the Gas Emergency Helpline on 0800 111 999 if you think there's any danger
  • If you can’t leave the house, get fresh air immediately - open the doors and windows
  • Turn off any gas appliances and the gas at the meter
  • Extinguish naked flames and turn off any carbon-based appliances if you can
  • See your doctor immediately or go to hospital - let them know that you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and ask for an immediate blood or breath test



Regulations introduced by the government on 1 October 2015 mean that landlords of all tenancies created on or after that date must now supply and fit a carbon monoxide alarm in any property with a solid fuel appliance. This would apply to a wood-burner, a coal fire or a coal-fired oven like an Aga.

There is some debate over whether the landlord then has to make sure it remains in good working order for the rest of the tenancy, or whether that becomes the tenant's responsibility. 

One thing you should definitely never do is remove batteries from a CO alarm to use in something else – this would be risking you and your housemates’ lives.

Although the new regulations apply only to rentals with solid fuel appliances, the government recommends as good practice that all landlords install a CO alarm in every room with gas or oil appliances as these can emit CO too.

What to do if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Leave the house
  • Call the Gas Emergency Helpline on 0800 111 999 if you think there's any danger
  • If you can’t leave the house, get fresh air immediately - open the doors and windows
  • Turn off any gas appliances and the gas at the meter
  • Extinguish naked flames and turn off any carbon-based appliances if you can
  • See your doctor immediately or go to hospital - let them know that you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and ask for an immediate blood or breath test

What the new regulations don’t cover

The new regulations don't cover anything other than solid-fuel appliances. So gas boilers, gas fires and LPG (liquid petroleum gas) appliances do not come under these new regulations. 

Neither do they cover tenancies created before 1 October 2015, social housing or local authority housing.

They don’t cover accommodation which is shared with the landlord/landlady or members of their family either.

Flames

What can you do?

If you think your tenancy or letting agreement is covered by the new regulations but there is no working CO alarm fitted, then you should raise this with your landlord or the letting agency straight away. 

If they still do not fit an appropriate alarm, you should report it to your local council as they have powers to serve a notice on private landlords requiring them to comply and can fine them up to £5,000 if they do not comply with an enforcement notice. 

Many local fire services supplied landlords with CO alarms free of charge when the law was introduced. Tenants can contact their local fire service as well in case they have any alarms available. 

Also, many fire services and charities offer promotions with free smoke alarms over CO Awareness week, so check websites for one free of charge. 

Further obligations for landlords

As well as being required to supply and fit working CO alarms where a solid-fuel appliance is fitted, private landlords must also have boilers and any gas appliances such as gas fires or cookers and flues serviced every year. This should be done by a Gas Safe-registered gas engineer. 

Typical signs of a faulty appliance include:

  • Lazy yellow or orange flames on your cooker. The flame on your cooker should be crisp and blue
  • Dark staining around or on appliances
  • Pilot lights that frequently blow out
  • Increased condensation inside windows


The Student Room occasionally publishes guest posts by external contributors. This article has been written by Gavin Evans, a solicitor and partner at Simpson Millar Solicitors.