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November 2, 2011

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HSE should collect data on carbon-monoxide incidents

The HSE should be responsible for administering the collection of data relating to carbon-monoxide incidents in the same way as RIDDOR reporting, according to a report by an independent cross-party group of parliamentarians and gas-industry representatives.

A six-month inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Gas Safety Group found that as many as 4000 people a year are poisoned by carbon monoxide; a further 200 are admitted to hospital with serious injuries, and there are 50 fatalities. The overall cost to the NHS could be as high as £178m a year.

Publishing a report on Monday (31 October), the Group said the Government needs to bring regulation for the whole fossil-fuel sector in line with that of the gas industry. Although there is a requirement for a wired-in smoke alarm to be fitted in all new-build homes, and a carbon-monoxide alarm where there is a solid-fuel appliance, the solid-fuel and oil industries are otherwise relatively unregulated in comparison to the gas industry.

The most recent carbon-monoxide fatalities related to solid fuels have been caused by a lack of maintenance, the use of poor-quality fuels, or both, says the report. Neither industry has a mandatory registration scheme to ensure that work is carried out by a qualified, competent professional, and the Group believes that such a scheme would improve reporting and recording of data relating to suspected incidents of carbon-monoxide poisoning.

The Group recommends that a central data-collation point be set up for carbon-monoxide incidents. It explained: “This would collect data in the same way as RIDDOR reporting, and therefore it is logical that the HSE, who are responsible for RIDDOR, in conjunction with key industry organisations, should administer this initiative.”

The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 should also be revisited as part of the Löfstedt review of health and safety legislation, and amended so that the person undertaking annual safety checks of gas appliances is required to carry out a full service of all appliances, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The Group adds that, under the 1998 Regulations, all landlords should be required to install an audible carbon-monoxide detector, manufactured to European standard EN 50921, as a safety back-up.

Commenting on the report, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Gas Safety Group, said: “Low-level carbon-monoxide poisoning is a constant risk to us all. Because the gas is so difficult to detect, and the symptoms (such as headaches) so common, many people may be poisoned without knowing it.  Moreover, a crude calculation suggests that the effects of such poisoning are currently costing the NHS £178 million a year.
“But, as this report shows, changing this situation is relatively easy. Carbon-monoxide alarms must become as common as fire alarms – everyone needs to be CO-aware.”

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