The risks of inhaling carbon monoxide are being highlighted this week [21 November – 27 November] as part of a national awareness initiative.

Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, a campaign organised by the CO-Awareness charity, is urging landlords, employers and members of the public across the UK to highlight the importance of gas safety by arranging local community events and warning people of the risks associated with the colourless and tasteless gas on their social media channels.

Although carbon monoxide poisoning is more likely to be caused by malfunctioning gas appliances such as boilers, cookers and central heating systems, it can also be caused by faulty vehicle exhausts and blocked chimneys.

Initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, stomach pain and nausea. Long-term exposure can lead to unconsciousness, anoxic brain injury – which often results in neurological problems such as memory loss and cognitive and behavioural difficulty - and in some cases even death.

By law, landlords are responsible for the safe installation and maintenance of gas equipment, including annual checks by a Gas Safe Engineer. Similarly, carbon monoxide detectors must be fitted whenever a gas appliance is present. Employers also have a duty to protect their workers from carbon monoxide poisoning in the workplace.

According to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England in 2013, accidental carbon monoxide poisoning causes 200 injuries and 40 deaths every year. With colder winter weather on the way there may be an increase in cases of poisoning as people use their gas appliances more regularly to heat their homes.

Jeeva Sethu, a specialist industrial disease solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Carbon monoxide is often referred to as the ‘silent killer’ as it cannot be seen, smelt or tasted as it enters the bloodstream and prevents oxygen from being carried around a person’s body.

“It is vital that employers and landlords regularly check gas appliances to ensure that people aren’t exposed to dangerous levels of the substance. Members of the public should also take heed of this campaign’s warning and understand the risks and symptoms associated with the illness which, if left untreated, could develop into a more serious problem.”

For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning, download our factsheet.