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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

According to the CMO (Chief Medical Officer) for England, every year over 200 people are hospitalised with around 40 cases resulting in death because of accidental (and preventable) Carbon Monoxide poisoning. The Department for Health indicates that around 4000 people every year attend A&E for the treatment of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.

Of all the people exposed to harmful levels of Carbon Monoxide the most vulnerable age ranges are those under 14 and over 65 with these accounting for 56% of all Carbon Monoxide related admissions (31% for under 14’s and 25% for over 65’s).

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide is gas that is marginally less dense than air. Commonly shortened to CO, Carbon Monoxide has a triple quality of being odourless, colourless and tasteless, making it very difficult to detect without specialised equipment.

The compound is highly toxic to hemoglobic reliant creatures (including humans) when encountered in concentrations above 35 PPM (Parts-Per-Million), roughly 0.0035% concentration. Carbon Monoxide is formed of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom and within the atmosphere it is short lived, having a role in the creation of ground level ozone production.

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The symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning

How is Carbon Monoxide Produced?

Carbon Monoxide is produced via the incomplete process of combustion due to an insufficient amount of oxygen available which discontinues the process of oxidation to Carbon Dioxide. This happens when operating devices such as internal combustion engines (heaters, generators etc) within confined spaces.

Most cases of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are caused via the fault or a lack of proper / correct servicing of gas and other related fossil fuel powered appliances. Because of the process that happens during the poisoning, Carbon Monoxide has been labelled ‘The Silent Killer’.

Reported cases of CO poisoning can be seasonal; the higher amounts being reported during the colder winter months when heating system are being used at their highest output.

What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning occurs after you inhale too higher quantity of Carbon Monoxide. With the gas being odourless, colourless, tasteless and at first non-irritating a CO leak maybe incredibly difficult to detect.

The opening symptoms of CO poisoning closely mimic flu like issues, meaning most people brush these off as a simple condition not realising how dangerous the situation can become.

Within humans Carbon Monoxide does its damage by joining onto hemoglobins to form a compound within the blood called Carbonoxyhemoglobin (HbCO). With the Carbon Monoxide within your blood stream your cells are prevented from carrying oxygen to your organs and tissue causing hypoxia.

Why is Carbon Monoxide Dangerous?

With the nickname ‘The Silent Killer’ it isn’t hard to realise why Carbon Monoxide is considered so dangerous. The gas has a highly toxic effect on humans and animals alike with high enough concentrations causing death within three minutes!

With early symptoms mimicking less severe and more common ailments, Carbon Monoxide poses a serious threat if not caught early. 

So what are the effects of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning? That depends on the concentration of the poison within the air you are the breathing, the higher the concentration the more severe the symptoms become. Below we have a table demonstrating the various concentration / symptom combinations. As you can see with a concentration of just 1.28% within the air, just how quickly you will succumb to Carbon Monoxide.

The Effects of Carbon Monoxide

Concentration

35ppm (0.0035%)

100ppm (0.01%)

200ppm (0.02%)

400ppm (0.04%)

800ppm (0.08%)

1600ppm (0.16%)

3200ppm (0.32%)

6400ppm (0.64%)

12,800ppm (1.28%)

Symptoms / Effects

Within 6 - 8 hours of exposure you will begin to experience dizziness and headaches

Within 2 - 3 hours of exposure you will begin to experience a slight headache

Within 2 - 3 hours of exposure you will begin to experience a slight headache as well as the loss of judgment

Within 1 - 2 hours you will experience a headache located within the frontal sections of your head

Within 45 minutes you will experience dizziness, nausea and convulsions. You will be insensible within 2 hours

Within 20 minutes you will experience headaches, dizziness, nausea and increased heart rate. Death will occur within 2 hours

Within 5 - 10 minutes you will experience headaches, dizziness and nausea. Death will occur within 30 minutes

Within 1 - 2 minutes you will experience intense headaches and dizziness. Within the next 20 minutes you will experience convulsions, respiratory arrest and death

You will be unconscious within 2 - 3 breaths. Death will occur in less than 3 minutes!

What are the signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Just like other forms of poisoning there are a range of symptoms that accompany Carbon Monoxide Poisoning but unfortunately the early stages effect people in such a way that the actual cause is often mislabelled as early onset flu.

The symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning include:

  • A dull headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and / or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath (an early sign of hypoxia)
  • Confusion
  • Blurred visions
  • Loss of consciousness (a serious sign of hypoxia)

If you experience any of these symptoms, especially in the work place you must notify the relevant people immediately before the effects become more wide spread and more serious.

In the work place it is your employers’ responsibility to make sure all equipment is fully compliant and tested. Even though Carbon Monoxide is most likely to be found in an industrial environment it could be present in ANY work place which, for example, is heated via gas.

How can I prevent Carbon Monoxide poisoning?

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning can be prevented in a number of ways.

Firstly we highly recommend every location you use fossil fuel powered equipment is fitted with a Carbon Monoxide Detector. These detection units will sound an alarm if any trace of the poisonous gas is detected, allowing you to immediately remove people from the exposure zone and implement the correct procedures for halting the release of Carbon Monoxide.

Carbon Monoxide detectors are an incredibly vital piece of hardware to have within your home especially as Carbon Monoxide dangers are at their highest whilst you sleep.

Even if you have a Carbon Monoxide Detector installed there are still some very basic aspects to look out for which may indicate you are at risk of being poisoned by Carbon Monoxide:

  • Instead of burning blue your boiler pilot light is burning orange which is a sign of incomplete combustion, the first indication of Carbon monoxide production
  • Soot stains begin to appear on nearby appliances, this will be in the form of a black powder
  • Excessive amounts of condensation in the room
  • If you have coal or wood fires these will burn very slowly or may even go out
  • Yourself, your family or any workers experience prolonged periods with flu-like symptoms
  • Have your gas appliances serviced every year by a 'Gas Safe' registered gas engineer
  • Use correctly trained professionals to service other fossil fuel burning appliances

Carbon monoxide and the Law

In October 2015 ‘The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015’ came into effect after being approved by Parliament and states that private landlords are required to have at least one smoke alarm situated on every storey of the property as well as a Carbon monoxide alarm placed in ANY room which contains a solid fuel burning appliance (for example a coal fire or wood burning stove).

It is important to understand that gas is NOT a solid fuel and so the regulations do not require a CO detector to be fitted near boilers but we heavily advise you do as an act of best practice.

On top of this the landlord must make sure the alarms are in full working order at the beginning of each new tenancy. Failure to comply with the new laws can result in a fine by the local authority of up to £5000.

According to the HSE, within the work place there are 3 main aspects to cover in the arena of CO detection:

  • Assess – Identify the risk where significant levels of CO may occur, this could include the use of LPG equipment, petrol powered tools such as generators, cut off saws etc and inadequate gas appliances such as heaters.
  • Control – Think about how you can control, reduce and / or eliminate Carbon Monoxide risks wherever possible by using techniques such as switching to electric powered appliances instead of solid fuel, positioning solid fuel appliances outside or in very well ventilated areas and correct maintenance of the tools / equipment / appliances. Especially with solid fuel equipment it is important to remember that any facilities using these machines should have adequate ventilation at both high and low levels, that isn’t blocked and which may even require mechanical ventilation (this is the physical extraction of the air via a system of ducting and fans).
  • Review – Ensure that all equipment is properly maintained on a regular basis, especially solid fuel tools as LPG equipment can be vulnerable to leaks from damage via ‘wear and tear’.

The HSE also recommends that personal and / or mounted Carbon Monoxide detectors be used where ever appropriate.

Here at Hire Station we take safety very seriously and so along with all of our solid fuel equipment we can offer both free flowing and mechanical ventilation for your hire. To speak about your ventilation requirements simply contact us to discuss your needs!

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Please note

Our order and collect service is available on all orders placed online, on the phone or in the local branch. However, you may not get the same special offers and prices as advertised on this site.

Our branch staff will show you how to use the machine in the branch, but please also note the hirer should collect so he / she knows how to use the equipment.  If you are collecting from us on behalf of someone else, please be aware we cannot be held responsible for any operating errors or faults.

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