Make sure your house won’t kill you

Carbon Monoxide: the senseless student killer

Durham Death House: The rented accommodation that Anne Brennan, a second year English student, was gassed to death in.

You can’t hear it, smell it or see it, and unless there’s a detector fitted in your home, you won’t even know it’s there. But every year more than 200 people suffer from its effects, some fatally. Carbon monoxide, dubbed ‘the silent killer’, is a poisonous gas that is emitted by some faulty gas appliances.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include drowsiness, headaches, nausea, breathlessness and ultimately loss of consciousness. Because these symptoms are so similar to the start of common illnesses such as a cold, many victims succumb to sleep, hoping to wake refreshed, most often with tragic consequences. While it is your landlord’s responsibility to check and maintain them, many students don’t bother to check gas credentials before starting a tenancy.

You should check that all gas appliances, such as your boiler or cooker have been fully serviced by a Gas Safe Register engineer in the past 12 months. The problem occurs when gas does not burn properly and the toxic carbon monoxide is released.

On October 21 2009 six Nottingham students were evacuated from their Lenton home when they became
suspicious that their house was making them ill. Simon Glew, from Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, said the group had a lucky escape. Others are not so lucky.

In 1997 Anne Brennan, a second year English student, died in her bed at her rented house on Flass Street, Durham. Her room had been directly above the boiler in the basement. It was found later that the second hand boiler would leak CO during certain weather conditions. Brennan’s landlord was successfully prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive and was fined £10,000.

Sonja Hyams, was studying at the University of Keele and sharing a rented property with four other students. CO fumes overcame her after heavy snowfall had blocked the flume preventing ventilation to the boiler. As well as not being properly
ventilated, the boiler wasn’t installed properly and had not been inspected in the previous 12 months. Both the landlord and gas fitter were jailed, convicted of manslaughter.

If you experience what you think are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning open all the doors and windows and call your landlord and the National Grid Gas Emergency line on 0800 111 999. Make sure you ask your landlord about the safety of the gas appliances, information he should have to hand. A copy of the last inspection and safety certificate should be displayed and if you’re still worried, ask your landlord to fit a carbon monoxide alarm. Gas safety is the law, there to protect you.

Make sure you don’t succumb to the silent killer

  • Check to make sure your property has a Gas Safety Certificate (CP 12)
  • Make sure any maintenance to gas appliances is done buy a Gas Safe registered installer. Insist on seeing their credentials
  • You can buy a CO alarm from most DIY stores for around £20. Ask your landlord to fit it for you.
  • Your landlord is required by law to have the gas equipment checked at least once a year . Check the date of the last maintenance visit (It should be clearly displayed on a sticker attached to the appliance). Insist that your landlord complies with the law. When in doubt, contact your local Health and Safety executive branch office.
  • Remember, your life could literally depend on it.

You are at risk from CO poisoning if:

  • Your gas appliance is poorly installed.
  • You gas appliance is not working properly Your gas appliance has not been checked or properly maintained
  • There is not sufficient ventilation in the room
  • Your chimney flue gets blocked up, or
  • You allow unqualified people to install or maintain your appliance.
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