Carbon monoxide poisoning: Who is most at risk?

Protecting vulnerable or low-income households this winter

As winter approaches and the nights draw in, we are all trying to stay warm at home. With increased use of fuel burning appliances such as log burners or gas boilers, we are all at greater risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. With over 4000 people attending A&E departments due to carbon monoxide poisoning in England each year, are some households more at risk than others?

Staying safe in the dead of winter

Dr Sotiris Vardoulakis 1 from Public Health England stated that many deaths relating to CO poisoning occur between November and February due to faulty fossil fuel and wood burning appliances leaking this lethal gas. He urges everyone to have their solid fuel burning appliances checked by a registered engineer before the start of winter and to have a suitable carbon monoxide alarm installed in each room containing an appliance.

Kidde carbon monoxide alarm placed near a gas fire
Kidde carbon monoxide alarm located near a gas fire

Who is most at risk?

Recent studies have shown that lower income households are more at risk of CO poisoning. Research carried out by the National Energy Action charity and the Gas Safety Trust found that 35% of low income and vulnerable households surveyed exceeded the 10ppm threshold for carbon monoxide levels. This threshold indicates levels of CO that are harmful with prolonged exposure, having adverse effects on the body and brain.

Why are low income and vulnerable households more at risk? 

There is shown to be a direct correlation between fuel poverty and carbon monoxide poisoning. Lower income households are often reliant on older boilers to heat their homes. These are often less efficient and carry a greater risk of emitting CO gas if not properly serviced and maintained. Some households in this category did not have a central heating system and were reliant on smaller, often older heaters or even gas stoves or cookers to heat their homes.

Research carried out by Dr Andy Shaw from Liverpool John Moores University found that deprived areas were less likely to own an audible CO alarm than homes in non-deprived areas, further increasing the risk of CO poisoning. As these households are more at risk of the presence of CO gas, having a detector is vital. CO gas is otherwise undetectable by humans without the presence of a CO detector due to it having no colour, taste or smell.

Over 60s were also found to be particularly vulnerable to CO poisoning. This could be attributed to the likelihood of them spending more time at home and feeling the cold, resulting in the need to use an appliance more regularly to stay warm. Elderly people, or those with respiratory problems are also more at risk from the effects of carbon monoxide, becoming ill more quickly. With symptoms being similar to those of flu or food poisoning, a headache, nausea and dizziness may be attributed to those common illnesses rather than to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Headache or dizziness is a symptom of co poisoning
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can easily be mistaken for flu or a common cold or sickness bug

Other groups shown to be disproportionately affected by CO poisoning include pregnant women, young children, anyone with an existing respiratory condition and elderly people.

Common symptoms to look out for

Otherwise known as ‘the silent killer’, carbon monoxide can cause severe symptoms and even death if not detected quickly. Look out for these symptoms in yourself or others:

Symptoms of CO Poisoning

Supporting those most at risk

We can all play our part to ensure that vulnerable people and lower income households are protected against carbon monoxide poisoning. By ensuring that everyone follows these simple guidelines, we can help to protect ourselves and our communities.

  1. Be in the know about CO. Would you be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning? Learn how to spot the dangers, signs and symptoms of CO poisoning and help to educate those around you. Findings by the Gas Safe Register2 in 2019 revealed that only one in five respondents said they would be aware of a carbon monoxide leak in their homes if they felt unwell.
  2. Have your gas or solid fuel appliances serviced regularly. According to the latest UK inspection figures from Gas Safe Register, 5.5 million homes in the UK have unsafe gas appliances. When did you last have your appliance checked?
  3. Install a CO alarm where required. It is recommended that a carbon monoxide alarm be installed in every room in the house containing an appliance that could leak CO gas.  Is your home covered? Check with vulnerable friends, family or neighbours to see if they need help installing a carbon monoxide alarm.

The All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG) is calling for protection for the most vulnerable households in England to be a priority. Their recommendations include making it mandatory for CO alarms to be installed in every property whether it be private rented, social housing or owner-occupied. Scotland is introducing new regulations next year which include a stipulation to fit a carbon monoxide alarm in every home. It is hoped that other countries within the UK will follow suit.

Further information and advice on carbon monoxide poisoning including the signs and symptoms, and what to do in a CO emergency can be found on our information page. You can also download our printable information sheet which can be placed in a prominent place in your home. Or, why not give it to, or talk it through with anyone who you think could be vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning. This resource contains an action plan for what to do if a CO alarm sounds and what symptoms to look out for as well as general awareness.

Carbon monoxide poisoning information sheet printable download
Download our information sheet and share with relatives or friends

References:

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/reduce-the-risk-of-carbon-monoxide-poisoning-over-winter
  2. https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/news/news-2020/over-80-of-uk-adults-at-risk-of-missing-hangover-like-carbon-monoxide-poisoning-symptoms/

Working towards a greener and more sustainable future

solar panels on the office roof generate 80% of our total energy usage
1000sqm solar panels have been installed on our warehouse roof

At Safelincs, sustainability is one of our core brand values which we take very seriously. The global challenge of reducing carbon emissions is huge, but we believe that every company and individual can make a difference. That is why, at Safelincs, we aim to work towards a greener and more sustainable future by making progress on issues such as recyclable packaging, renewable energy supply, sustainable transport and waste reduction. We also encourage our staff to engage with smaller changes such as protecting our own green spaces and providing our staff with palm oil-free chocolate and fair trade coffee.

Renewable energy

Our site is powered by 100% renewable electricity and we have made use of our large warehouse roofs to install 1000sqm of solar panels which provides 60% of our total electricity usage. New dynamic heating thermostats in each office space allows staff to better regulate the temperature in their environment instead of opening doors and windows. We have just replaced our gas boilers with the latest condensing technology and invested in LED lighting throughout the site and low energy computers which helps us to reduce energy consumption.

We are excited to have recently added our first fully electric car – a Tesla 3 – to our fleet of company vehicles. The Tesla will be mainly powered from an onsite charging point during peaktime of solar PV production, making it a genuine environmental option. We hope to increase our number of electric vehicles, eventually working towards a completely ‘green’ fleet.

Our new Tesla-3, a fully electric company car
Tesla-3 – our first fully electric company car

Partnering to reduce plastic packaging

We feel strongly about reducing plastic packaging and have been working hard with suppliers to ensure that, where possible, plastic is eliminated. We encourage our partners to supply us with products packaged using cardboard. We have also largely eliminated the use of plastic packaging materials and are using almost exclusively cardboard for all packaging. Our padding materials are produced inhouse by two specialist shredding/wrinkling machines that use the cardboard received into the company.

Our packaging boxes are made from recycled card
Recycled card packing boxes in our warehouse

Waste reduction

Our staff understand the importance of recycling and re-using across our business. Any new starter is introduced to our waste management systems including our multiple recycling bins and our process regarding re-usable batteries. We aim to educate and inform employees in any environmental issues that may affect their work. For example, we work with a member of the team in charge of office supplies to ensure that any stationary items ordered only contain recycled paper. Safelincs challenges its team members to find new ways in which we can collectively work towards a more sustainable future.

Safelincs also contribute to Valpak’s WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Distributer Take-Back Scheme. Our monetary contribution helps local authorities across the UK to increase the rate of collection, re-use and recycling of electrical equipment.

Innovation in product development

We are mindful that within the fire safety industry there are environmental challenges and are always on the look out for alternatives. For example, we promote long-lasting products such as the range of P50 fire extinguishers which only need re-filling every ten years rather than the standard 5 years. They also have an impressive 20-year lifespan and are also service-free, saving engineer travel year after year.

Our range of Water Mist Fire Extinguishers is something that we are proud of. These extinguishers are totally environmentally friendly containing 100% de-ionised water which is delivered in microscopic droplets to extinguish flames. These extinguishers are very versatile and can even be used on electrical fires. They are fully recyclable and contain no chemicals meaning that they are non-toxic to humans or wildlife. They also leave no mess or residue to clean up after use.

Every little helps!

Fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate and locally sourced fruit for the office staff.
Fair trade Staff Room supplies!

As well as working towards a sustainable future with our bigger initiatives, we also work with our staff to make smaller, more environmental changes in many areas. Our staff room is always stocked with free fruit, sourced from our local greengrocer, fair trade coffee, plastic-free tea bags and palm oil free chocolate. No one goes hungry! But, by encouraging these practices in the workplace, we hope that by leading by example, our employees will adopt some of these little environmental wins at home.

Safelincs are lucky to have green space on our site and recently staff braved the rain to plant wildflower seed which we hope will encourage bees and other insects to visit in the warmer months. Very soon, we plan to plant trees on our site to further create a natural area to be enjoyed by staff and nature!

Making the most of our green space - creating a wildflower garden
Creating a wildflower garden on site

Sustainability vs profitability

Environmental alternatives often require an upfront investment. But in the longer term this can be much more cost effective. The cost saving benefits of solar panels, LED lighting and electric cars for example will be substantial in the long run and is an investment that we think is well worth making. We are dramatically reducing our environmental footprint by introducing these measures and the long term cost savings are an added benefit.

As we move towards becoming a carbon neutral company, Safelincs strives to integrate environmental considerations into all aspects of decision making and activity. We appreciate the importance of sustainability and hope to inspire our staff and local community to join us in championing a more environmental way of operating.