In the warmer months of the year there are a range of potential hazards that come with the summer weather. However, many people would not realise that fatal carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from your boiler is one of them.
On the 19th June 2018, the East London and West Sussex Guardian published an appeal from charity The Carbon Monoxide and Gas Safety Society (CO-Gas Safety) warning of the significant risk of your boiler quietly killing you at this time of year. Since your boiler is not used as often during the warm weather, the risk of not seeing the warning signs of a fault are high and this oversight could be fatal.
CO-Gas Safety urges British people not to “drop their guard” when it comes to boiler safety at this time of year. It is the lack of frequent boiler use that makes this so important in the summer. People will still use the boiler for hot water, but since their heating will otherwise be switched off, it is easy for many people to fall into the habit of neglecting to check and maintain their boiler as they would during the cold weather.
Stephanie Trotter, CO-Gas Safety President and Director, stated: “We’ve recorded 174 fatalities occurring due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in the UK between the months of April and September, inclusive. And that is clearly too many.”
CO-Gas Safety is committed to spreading awareness of this danger in an effort to minimise the number of deaths. Trotter continues: “Consumers need to be aware that although they may switch off their heating at this time of year, the majority of households still use their boilers on a daily basis to provide hot water.
“Indeed, one of the most high-profile cases of CO poisoning in recent times is that of Zoe Anderson, who was killed in 2012 by CO leaking from a boiler as she heated water to take a shower.
“There is also a danger that during the lighter use of the summer months people neglect to carry out maintenance on their appliances, chimneys and flues, as they are not used as often. Meanwhile because a boiler is used less, it becomes harder to spot the telltale signs of a deady defect – such as a pilot light blowing out frequently or changing colour from blue to yellow.”
Carbon monoxide gas is a deadly, silent killer that is odourless and near-impossible to identify without a proper CO detector before it is too late. It is estimated that in England and Wales, approximately 40 people die and around 300 are injured each year from accidental CO poisoning. Of these deaths, about 27 per cent are due to malfunctioning central heating boilers, which is almost a third. Service and Maintenance Manager for STL Heating & Energy, Stephen Wilkinson, emphasises the importance of homeowners being vigilant about checking their boilers to identify any signs of fault.
Wilkinson describes some of the common tell-tale signs that there is something wrong with your boiler: “If you’re not getting hot water, that’s obviously a good indication something may be wrong. If the pilot blows out frequently, or changes from blue to yellow, that tells you the boiler could be producing CO.
“Black stains near your boiler, or on the ceiling above, could indicate a CO leak from your flue, and heavy condensation in your home could also be a sign your boiler isn’t ventilating properly, and is therefore filling the rooms with CO.
“If you have any concerns, get a Gas Safe engineer into your property to inspect the appliance and make sure your carbon monoxide alarms are functioning by always undertaking regular checks.”
CO gas is produced as a result of burning gas without a sufficient supply of oxygen, also known as incomplete combustion. Boilers that are not fitted or maintained correctly can end up producing and leaking CO gas, which kills in just minutes. When it is inhaled, it prevents oxygen from being transferred around the body, so the body’s cells and tissue slowly suffocate and die.
Improper installation of boilers is one of the ways in which accidental CO poisoning happens, and Wilkinson urges consumers to be careful about who they hire: “Anyone carrying out work on installations and appliances must be registered with a relevant association. And for gas appliances, that’s the Gas Safe Register.
“The worrying news is that there’s an estimated 7,500 ‘hard core’ illegal gas fitters operating in the UK. And two thirds – 75 per cent – of this illegal gas work carried out in homes is unsafe, resulting in the potential for not just CO poisoning but also fires and explosions. We see this ourselves virtually every week, as our fitters correct illegal work that’s a very real danger to human life.”
So this summer, remember to check your boiler regularly for any of the previously mentioned signs of failure. The consequences of forgetting could be life-threatening.