Suffering an injury from carbon monoxide poisoning as the result of a home appliance or device not being installed properly or adequately maintained or tested, through no fault of your own, could mean you are entitled to claim compensation from those who are to blame.
If you live in rented accommodation as a requirement by law your landlord must ensure that all gas fittings, flues and appliances are inspected on an annual basis by a Gas Safe registered engineer.
Should your landlord have failed to ensure your safety from CO poisoning or you hired a Gas Safe engineer for your private residence / place of work and they were negligent in their duties then please do not hesitate to contact our claims advisers to find out whether you can claim compensation for the injuries you sustained.
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
In its natural form carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless, and tasteless gas which is slightly lighter than air and with a somewhat short lifespan in the atmosphere as it combines with oxygen (oxidation) to form carbon dioxide (CO2).
However, inhaled in large doses it is highly toxic to both humans and animals and when confined to small spaces such as a kitchen, office or garage then carbon monoxide can, and will kill.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is created when carbon based materials or hydrocarbon fuels are combusted (burned) without the presence of adequate oxygen to create carbon dioxide.
It is often said that carbon monoxide is the product of imperfect combustion, though to do so implies the idea of perfect combustion which is actually never achieved. Therefore, to some extent carbon monoxide is present in the burning of any and all carbon based materials or hydrocarbon fuels though when done so properly the level of carbon monoxide is reduced significantly.
What are its effects if inhaled?
The way in which carbon monoxide injures those who inhale it is by preventing oxygen in the blood from being carried around the body which results in asphyxiation and ultimately death. According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) during 2010/11 there were a reported 343 non-fatal incidences caused by carbon monoxide inhalation, with an additional 14 being fatal. The signs of carbon monoxide poisoning aren’t always immediately apparent and can often be dismissed for mood swings flu or the common cold, hangovers, migraines or simply being overly tired.
The most common effects felt by those who inhale carbon monoxide include:
- Sickness (Nausea)
- Breathing irregularity and a shortness of breath
- Lack of coordination
- Abdominal pain (Stomach ache)
- Fainting & unconsciousness
- Erratic behavior
In an article released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) it was reported that CO poisoning can kill within minutes of exposure, and is even more so dangerous to those with pre-existing ailments or defects.
The NHS states that while a majority of those with mild symptoms will make a full recovery, those suffering from severe CO poisoning are much less likely to do so – between 10 and 50% of people with serious CO poisoning can have long-term problems. It is therefore imperative that preventative measures are taken to ensure the safety of both yourself and those who live or work with you.
Carbon monoxide production
Across the UK many homes and offices are fitted with devices which if faulty can lead to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide being leaked into the building. If not effectively maintained the following house hold appliances/devices can all lead to the production of excessive levels of CO:
- Wood burning fires
- Gas fires
- Central heating systems
- Water heaters
This occurs when the fuels being burnt aren’t done so properly, and in most circumstances this is an issue you may not be immediately aware of as CO is odourless and tasteless.
According to the NHS the number one cause of carbon monoxide poisoning in residential areas can be attributed to the improper installation and maintaining of cooking and heating devices. While certain levels of CO are always present during the burning of carbon based materials and hydrocarbon fuels, the levels are far from harmful when produced by a device which has been installed and not maintained effectively.
Additionally, blocked flues and chimneys may also increase the chances of accidental injury to carbon monoxide as the gases expelled from the devices after the fuel has been burned are restricted from entering into the atmosphere outside of the building. This is also the case for burning fuels in poorly ventilated rooms as CO will accumulate over time and begins to poison those who breathe it in; this is a particular concern for those who may keep their cars running in a garage.
Treating CO Poisoning
Those who suspect they’ve been exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide should seek medical advice immediately, regardless of whether you deem it to be mild or severe. While mild CO poisoning may not require you to visit a hospital it is still worth a visit to your doctor (GP) as they can then determine the severity of your exposure – remember, CO inhalation prevents oxygen from being transported around the body and so may very quickly suffocate as a result.
Your doctor may require you to visit your local hospital to undergo standard oxygen therapy whereby you will be required to breathe in 100% oxygen using a firmly fitted mask. Those who feel they can do without should bear in mind that normal air contains only 21% oxygen, and since your body may have been starved of oxygen it is advisable that you seek medical attention to remedy this.
Those who may have suffered with the exposure more severely than others will be required to undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), a procedure used to flood the body with oxygen to counteract the shortage of oxygen brought on by the exposure of CO into the body. HBOT is less likely to be used than standard oxygen therapy as the long-term effects of such a procedure are unknown, though it may be used where nerve damage is suspected.
Prevention of carbon monoxide accidents
Of course the primary way in which to prevent CO poisoning is to not breathe it in, this should be a given. The issue however is that CO is tasteless, odourless, and colourless so it’s near impossible for us to detect in the air we breathe.
The first and most important preventative action you can take is ensuring that all appliances and flues are operating properly, and that they are inspected on an annual basis by a Gas Safe regulated engineer. If this has been done then you will significantly reduce the chances of appliances becoming faulty, though that’s not to say you’re clear from danger.
As a means by which to further ensure your safety you can purchase a carbon monoxide detector which will cost approximately £20 from your local hardware store or online equivalent. Though we don’t advise you pay over the odds we also don’t advise you to buy something purely because it’s the cheapest – after all, it’s your own life at risk and so you want the device to be fit for purpose.
A CO detector is not unlike a smoke detector in that it is battery operated, and therefore won’t fail as the result of a prolonged power cut, and will screech into life if it detects excessive carbon monoxide in the air.
We strongly advise you purchase one.