APPCOG meeting highlights issues surrounding preventing CO poisoning in the domestic environment

At a meeting of APPCOG (the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group) on 25 April 2016 in Westminster, the issues surrounding preventing carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in the domestic environment were discussed.

The key points raised were:

  • The introduction of audible CO alarms is in correlation with a downward trend in CO-related fatalities
  • As well as accute poisoning, there needs to be awareness and research on low-level, chronic exposure
  • Homes in more deprived areas as at greater risk of CO poisoning incidents: private rented homes in such areas are at most risk

Key points raised included:

Chris Bielby MBE, GISG:-

  • Major events that reduced CO poisoning risk
    Over 100 people were dying in 1972, the year when the UK finished converting from town gas to natural gas. The transition took place between 1968 and 1972, and 44.4million appliances were exchanged. Natural gas is a clean efficient fuel that – if used wisely, and installed and maintained correctly – will not give rise to CO. Additionally, the use of flue-gas analysers by domestic service engineers has brought down CO deaths from 1990 onwards. Additionally, engineers now use flue gas combustion equipment when installing appliances. Furthermore, Landlord Gas Safety Inspection Certificates were rolled out in 1995, which means landlords are required to have their appliances checked and serviced every year by gas safe operatives.
  • Audible CO alarms
    When British Gas started pushing out audible CO alarms in 1993, it can be correlated with a downward trend in deaths.
  • Boiler scrappage scheme
    This scheme began in 2010, and led to a CO incident reduction. The purpose was to replace old boilers with Category A condensing boilers. Former London mayor Boris Johnson carried out a similar initiative in London. GISG hopes that the Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) will eventually roll this out nationally.
  • Downstream Incident Data Report 2015
    According to the report, the groups apparently most at risk of CO poisoning are people over the age of 80, households with poor ventilation, and those containing old appliances which haven’t been serviced for a number of years.

Jane Everton, Deputy Director for the Better Rented & Leasehold Sector Division, Department for Communities & Local Government:-

  • Current initiatives
    JE explained that national building regulations currently require the safe installation of gas, oil and solid fuel burners and fires. These regulations apply whether the buildings are owner-occupied, private rented or social housing. Regulations also require CO alarms to be fitted when new or replacement solid fuel burning appliances are installed, due to their higher risk. Six months ago DCLG took this further with new regulation for England, requiring CO alarms to be fitted in private rented properties that contain solid fuel burning appliances. Alongside those regulations, DCLG published two booklets: one for landlords to help them with compliance, and one for local authorities to help them with enforcement of the regulations. DCLG also supported landlords in preparing for the regulations by providing £3.2m funding was provided to locals Fire & Rescue Services (FRS), to help them distribute free smoke and CO alarms, and run a social media campaign, linked to the Fire Kills site. FRSs across the country have also raised more awareness of the new regulations through their own local campaigns, press releases, social media, and in their direct contact with landlords and letting agencies. DCLG estimate that the new regulations will save 26 lives and prevent nearly 700 injuries per year. The regulations will be reviewed in October 2017.
  • Awareness raising activities
    JE also mentioned the following awareness-raising initiatives in which DCLG is involved:
    – Gas Safety Week, which this year will run from the 19-25 September.
    – Radio ads: DCLG introduced radio ads for use on commercial radio stations.
    JE concluded by stating that by encouraging safety with regard to carbon monoxide as well as other hazards in the home, forms part of DCLG’s commitment to creating a safer and stronger private rented sector, and encourage the growth of housing.

Dr Andy Shaw, School for the Built Environment, Liverpool John Moores Univeristy:-

AS is based in the School of the Built Environment at the Faculty of Engineering and Technology at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU). He is currently leading the carbon monoxide research project there, which is an on-going study into the levels of CO found in the domestic environment, covering over 25,000 homes in the Coventry and Liverpool areas. The findings of this research contributed greatly to the Carbon Monoxide: From Awareness to Action report (more info).

  • AS explained that LJMU has embarked on a project with Merseyside Fire & Rescue Services (FRS), looking at low-level CO exposure. The study is identifying trends amongst specific demographics that might be most at risk of CO. It collates data collected by PPE monitors worn by professionals – such as FRS staff, paramedics and engineers – entering people’s home. In the past year, the study has managed to reach 22,000 properties in inner-city Liverpool.
  • Findings
    – Whereas 78% of homes had smoke alarms, only 9% had CO alarms, with the best areas in Merseyside there being 12% of homes containing CO alarms.
    – When indicators of multiple deprivation are taken into account, the study has found that homes in more deprived areas are at greater risk of CO poisoning incidents.
    – The more occupants there are in a home, the greater the chance of a CO alarm being present.
    – Owner-occupied homes are more likely to have alarms.
    – Properties in the private rented sector are less likely to have an alarm: PRS properties in areas of multiple deprivation are at the highest risk.
    – Highest readings were often found in kitchens, where there is often a constant background level of 20ppm.
  • Stages II & III of the project
    Stage 2 of the project was made possible thanks to funding provided by the Gas Safety Trust and CoGDEM, and expanded from looking at properties in city centres to taking homes in more rural areas into account also, and homes containing solid fuel appliances. This involved collaboration with FRSs in Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire, and Cornwall. Moving forward, Stage 3 will incorporate work with West Yorkshire and Suffolk FRSs, as well as working alongside National Energy Action, and the work they are conducting using an in-depth questionnaire of homes.
  • Conclusion
    To conclude, AS stated that in order for CO safety to be improved upon, the following actions need to be taken:

    • Research into more cost-effective CO detection devices needs to be funded
    • BS EN standards should be changed to require alarms should sound at lower levels of ppm.
    • Research must be continued into the health effects of chronic low-level Co exposure