The government announced plans in March 2015 that would require private landlords to install carbon monoxide alarms in all rooms with solid fuel appliances..
For both tenants and landlords , it’s a welcome piece of legislation that could prevent harm, with negligible additional costs. Government estimates show that in 10 years, it could save 6-9 lives and stop 340-460 injuries.
But if you’re a landlord, you need to know your responsibilities.
We take a look at a few of the facts about carbon monoxide poisoning, as well as some details on the new proposals.
What is carbon monoxide poisoning?
Ordinarily, when gas, oil, wood, petrol or coal burn, carbon reacts with the oxygen in the air to form carbon dioxide (CO2). But when carbon-burning appliances are faulty or their ventilation gets blocked, there’s not enough oxygen for a complete reaction.
The result is a partial reaction with oxygen, producing carbon monoxide (CO).
It’s colourless, odourless and tasteless – and highly poisonous.
It’s absorbed into the blood and starves the body of oxygen, causing lasting neurological damage or even death. And since it’s not detectable by sight or smell, you may never know it’s there until it does you harm.
What does the new legislation involve?
You may know that, since 2010, residential landlords have had to fit CO alarms in rooms with new solid fuel appliances.
But once the planned legislation is passed, carbon monoxide alarms may be required by law in any room that contains a ‘solid fuel burning combustion appliance’. That includes appliances installed before the 2010 regulations came into place.
However, the current exceptions of social housing providers and those with leases of more than 7 years will still apply.
So what does this mean for landlords?
According to government estimates, around 360,000 UK properties will need CO alarms by the time the new legislation comes into effect, with 30,000 more alarms needed every year for the next decade. (At the moment, only 15% of domestic properties have one.)
If you don’t fit an alarm where it’s required, you could face fines of up to £5,000 as a landlord.
But there’s a chance you won’t have to pay for the alarms yourself.
The government recently paid out approximately £3 million to help the UK’s Fire and Rescue Services fit around 445,000 smoke alarms and 52,000 CO alarms into privately rented accommodation for free.
Failing that, you can fit a CO alarm yourself in about 15 minutes, and they cost less than £30.
Just make sure you buy one that’s certified by an official standard. In the UK you should look for the kite symbol or the code BSEN50291.
But remember: prevention is best. You should have any carbon-burning appliances – such as your commercial boiler – checked by a Gas Safe-registered engineer every 12 months. That’s also a perfect time to get your CO alarm(s) checked too.
UK homes are just the first step
If you run a business from home, you’ll be one of the first business owners to be affected when the new legislation comes into effect.
But even if you run a business from dedicated premises, it’s likely that workplaces will soon have to follow suit.
Know the warning signs
Carbon monoxide is an undetectable gas. So if you have carbon-burning appliances in your workplace, and you haven’t had an audio alarm installed yet, you need to at least be able to spot its effects. Look out for:
• dizziness, nausea or vomiting
• stomach pain
• shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
Unfortunately, the signs of low-level CO poisoning can be similar to other conditions, such as food poisoning or the ‘flu. That’s why it’s important to look at the context, too.
If you and your workers all have similar symptoms while at work, and those symptoms improve when you leave the building, it might be a case of carbon monoxide in the air.
If in doubt:
• turn off gas appliances
• call the National Gas Emergency Service 0800 111 999
• open the windows and doors
• evacuate the building
• go to your GP or local NHS service