Why is carbon monoxide dangerous?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a deadly gas released by fuel burning appliances, as a result of incomplete combustion. The dangers of carbon monoxide are caused by its structure, which is similar to oxygen. Because of this, CO can bind to red blood cells, which stops them from being able to deliver oxygen to organs. The gas has no colour, smell, or taste, making it impossible to detect without a carbon monoxide alarm.

Why is carbon monoxide dangerous?
Carbon monoxide can be fatal

What are the dangers of carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a risk even at very low levels. It is dangerous because it binds to haemoglobin of red blood cells where oxygen should bind, and becomes stuck there. As a result, the amount of oxygen that can be carried by the red blood cells is reduced. Carbon monoxide therefore starves the organs of oxygen, causing them to shut down.

Symptoms can start as headaches, nausea, dizziness and tiredness. If ignored, this can progress to stomach pains, breathlessness, and collapse as the body’s organs shut down; CO poisoning can be fatal. Read more information on the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Dangers of CO at low vs high levels

Exposure to low levels of CO can have subtle symptoms, which can easily be dismissed as sickness from a virus. Victims may feel drowsy and unwell when inside a building with a CO leak, but feel better when they leave. Over a period of days or weeks, this can have long term effects as the body’s organs, starved of oxygen, become damaged. This is why it is essential to install carbon monoxide detectors in any buildings with fuel burning appliances. 

The dangers of CO at high levels are considerably elevated, and in extreme cases, include death. Symptoms will be harder to ignore, but due to the risk of confusion and collapse, it may not be possible to get to safety.

Carbon monoxide alarms detect this dangerous gas
Carbon monoxide is dangerous as it has no colour, smell, or taste

Combatting the dangers of carbon monoxide

You should ensure that all your appliances, such as cookers, fires, and boilers are serviced every year. If you live in a rented home, this is the responsibility of your landlord, and is a legal requirement. Ask to see the annual certificates or reports if you can’t see an in-date sticker on the appliance. If your landlord can’t produce them, insist that the service is carried out again.

Further to this, in between the annual service or checks, be aware of signs that the appliance isn’t working properly. This may include soot marks around the appliance, excessive condensation in the room, or a lazy yellow or orange coloured flame in your boiler instead of a bright blue one. If you notice any of these signs, arrange for an engineer to check it immediately.

The best way to combat the dangers of CO is to install a carbon monoxide alarm. This will alert you to the danger even at low levels, before symptoms begin, and before long-term damage can be done to your body.

Do you need a CO detector if you don’t have any fuel burning appliances?

Yes, it is recommended that even if you don’t have any fuel appliances in your home, you have at least one CO detector fitted. Carbon monoxide can seep through walls and as such you are at risk of CO poisoning from your neighbour.

Buy a carbon monoxide detector for your home and test it regularly to protect your household from this dangerous gas. For more information, read about what to do if your CO alarm goes off. Alternatively, contact our friendly customer service team for advice about the best alarm for you on 0800 612 6537, or email support@safelincs.co.uk.

Maintained or Non-Maintained Emergency Lighting?

The installation of maintained or non-maintained emergency lighting should be decided based upon building type, its occupants and its usage.

What is the difference between maintained and non-maintained emergency lights?

Maintained Lights

Maintained emergency lighting is on at all times. These lights are mains powered and used as part of the normal room lighting system. However, should the mains power fail, it will stay lit for a specific duration powered by a back-up battery.

Maintained lighting could include lit fire exit signs, bulkhead lighting or recessed downlights.

This type of emergency lighting is generally used in non-residential places of public assembly such as leisure centres, cinemas, shopping centres etc. In public venues where the normal lighting is often dimmed e.g. cinemas, theatres or bars, maintained luminaries are always required.

Non-maintained Lights

Non-maintained lighting only comes on for a specific duration when the power supply to normal artificial lighting fails. These light fittings are powered by a battery that is charged from a constant trickle of mains power. This battery should have enough charge to remain lit for a duration of 3 hours if the mains power fails. Regular testing of emergency lighting is required to ensure that it is working and will be effective in an emergency. Read more about testing and maintenance.

Non-maintained emergency lights are normally suitable for buildings which are usually lit when occupied, for example, workplaces, offices, and schools.

Illuminated fire exit sign next to a door

Can an emergency light fitting be both maintained AND non-maintained?

Yes. Maintained emergency light fittings or signs used as part of a normal room lighting system can also be wired to perform as a non-maintained fitting if required. This especially useful if your property has multiple uses, where you have a mix of maintained and non-maintained lighting requirements, only one type of light needs to be purchased. Many maintained fittings are available as switchable units, meaning they can be switched between maintained and non-maintained modes using an ordinary light switch. However, non-maintained light fittings cannot be wired for use in maintained operation.

If you are unsure which emergency lighting is best for your environment, it is best practice to conduct a fire risk assessment. This must be conducted by a ‘competent person’. A specialist risk assessor will advise the most suitable option in line with the current regulations if your organisation cannot complete this in house.

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Watch our video to learn the difference between maintained and non-maintained emergency lighting

Which type of emergency lighting do I need?

British Standards guidelines 5266-1:2011 requires emergency lighting to be installed in all high occupancy residential, public or commercial buildings. It outlines the duties of the ‘Responsible Person‘ and focuses on emergency lighting fixtures ensuring escape routes are illuminated when the mains power fails. There are often more specific requirements given by local authorities in each area; check your local government website for more information.

Whether maintained or non-maintained emergency lighting is needed is largely a question for fire risk assessors based on each individual property. If non-maintained lighting is deemed sufficient, it is also worth considering the reduced environmental impact and lower energy cost of using non-maintained lighting over time.

Help guides

More information about all aspects of emergency lighting can be found in our emergency lighting guides.

British Standards

There are various British Standards that set out the regulations for emergency lighting where further guidance can be sought:

  • BS5266-1 Code of practice for emergency lighting of premises sets out general guidance on what emergency lighting should be provided in each environment
  • BS EN 50172 / BS 5266-8 Emergency escape lighting systems details minimum emergency lighting provision and testing for each type of environment

Mel Saunders

Head of Marketing

Mel joined Safelincs in 2020 and leads the content and marketing team.

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