Hi-Tech Products Ltd in Swadlingcote, Derbyshire experienced serious problems with carbon monoxide poisoning on the 10th Feb 2011.
One Thursday lunchtime, four members of the factory started to feel unwell, with the office workers starting to feel ill as well minutes later. The company suspected some form of CO poisoning and rang the gas supplier who sent an engineer within one hour.
The engineer checked the back of the gas-powered forklift and a gas heater but could not find any trace of carbon monoxide. Despite not finding any carbon monoxide he still switched the mains gas supply to the heater off. The company continued to use the forklift truck.
The symptoms of CO poisoning got so bad that one lady had to be taken to A+E and a gentleman had to go to the health clinic. Everybody else felt nauseous. The following day staff felt a little better. To play safe the company bought a Kidde carbon monoxide detector which started alarming straight after its installation. To double check the result, the alarm was taken outside into fresh air where the detector stopped alarming. The alarm started again when the CO detector was taken back into the building.
The gas supplier was called back in and could still not find any carbon monoxide present. The company then organised another carbon monoxide detector from a different brand and again, the alarm was immediately triggered. As a result of this Hi-tech contacted the environmental department of the local council who arranged for the fire brigade to come out and measure the CO levels.
The fire brigade successfully detected the CO gas and narrowed the source down to the forklift where 1000ppm were measured. This level is highly dangerous in closed buidlings. Hi-tech immediately had the forklift serviced which reduced the output of carbon monoxide greatly but still did not get rid of all CO gas emissions. If the roller doors to the factory are closed, the Kidde alarm will still go into alarm. The company temporarily resolved the problem by leaving the roller doors open during working hours and by installing another two CO alarms. Hi-tech are now considering changing to an electrical forklift truck. Since these measures were introduced no further health issues were reported.
This week an EastEnders story line will be covering carbon monoxide poisoning. Single mum, Heather Trotter, will be discovered unconscious in her flat.
Heather knows that her boiler is faulty but can not afford to have it repaired. The boiler leaks carbon monoxide into the flat and leaves Heather fighting for her life. Did she know about the dangers of carbon monoxide?
This episode will hopefully raise the awareness about carbon monoxide poisoning and how it occurs. Carbon monoxide is the result of incomplete combustion of all fossil fuels. It has no odour or colour and as a result can go undetected. Even some GPs miss-diagnose the onset of carbon monoxide poisoning as flu as the symptoms are very similar.
Don’t risk your life like Heather Trotter, install a carbon monoxide alarm and investigate your fossil fuel appliances if you begin to feel unwell at home, with flu like symptons that get better when you are outside the house.
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are very similar to that of a general cold or flu and as a result can not only be overlooked by the sufferer but can also result in a misdiagnosis by your GP.
The main symptoms suffered are headaches, nausea and vomiting, vertigo type symptoms, an alteration in consciousness and lethargy. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increase as the cold weather begins and fires and heating systems are put back into service after the summer.
There is one very significant factor to consider if you have any of the symptoms above but are unsure if it is a cold, flu or indeed due to carbon monoxide being present. The symptoms from carbon monoxide can subside and even disappear when you are not in the area where the carbon monoxide is present. You may notice that when you go out to the shops or to work that your symptoms are much better but shortly after returning home the symptoms increase again. Cold and flu symptoms usually last no longer than a week; if your symptoms continue after this period consider the possibility that it could be as a result of carbon monoxide.
If you suspect that your symptoms could be due to carbon monoxide, act swiftly. Alert your doctor of your suspicions, contact either your gas supplier if you have gas appliances or alternatively contact your local council who can advise you who you need to call. Carbon monoxide can be produced by the incomplete combustion of all fossil fuel, gas, oil, coal, coke and wood. Carbon monoxide alarms are also available which will alert you should the levels of carbon monoxide rise above acceptable levels.
Robert Schenker, age 31, died of carbon monoxide poisoning after shoddy building work carried out on his chimney.
The builder, who had been hired by Mr Schenker to repair his chimney stack, was convicted of manslaughter and breaching health and safety laws. Whilst undertaking a routine task he allowed debris and fresh mortar to fall down the flue leading to the kitchen boiler. The mixture formed a solid blockage in the chimney preventing the fatal carbon monoxide fumes, produced by a gas boiler connected to it, from escaping upwards safely. Although the boiler was 30 years old, it had been functioning perfectly well. However, as it exhausted straight into the chimney so when the chimney flue became blocked, the carbon monoxide had nowhere to go but back into the house.
Shortly after the building work, Mr Schenker had told his neighbours that he had been feeling unwell for several days and was advised to phone the builder to check the flue was ok. The builder reassured him that everything was in order. Mr Schenker switched on his boiler and went to take a nap – from which he never awoke, killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.
HSE inspectors involved in this case were appalled by the poor workmanship and failure to carry out even the most basic checks to ensure the correct operation of the flue, which directly led to Mr Schenker’s death.
An inspector with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) stated that Robert Schenker’s tragic and wasteful death could and should have been avoided by the builder taking straightforward safety precautions.
Mr Schenker’s brother, Max, said: “I hope that Robert’s tragic death will raise awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide. I would ask everyone to invest in a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector that can alert you to danger if you fall asleep.”
Take carbon monoxide safety seriously.
For detailed information about carbon monoxide – what causes problems, symptoms of poisoning, and how to protect your family, view our safety information sheet.