Carbon monoxide gas can kill. It’s known as the ‘silent killer’ for a very good reason: you can’t see it, smell it or taste it.

If there is carbon monoxide in your home and you don’t have an audible carbon monoxide alarm, it’s unlikely you will know about it.

How it kills

It starves the major organs of oxygen by binding onto the haemoglobin in the blood. If someone is exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide, they can die within minutes.

Children are more vulnerable than adults to carbon monoxide poisoning because their bodies are smaller and not yet fully-developed. Other high-risk groups include elders and pregnant women. However, it can kill anyone, including young, strong and healthy adults.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced by the incomplete burning (combustion) of fuels such as gas, wood, charcoal, liquid petroleum gas, coal, petrol, or oil.

There are two reasons why it can be present:

  • If an appliance is incorrectly fitted, badly repaired or poorly maintained.
  • If flues, chimneys or vents are blocked.

How to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! is the national campaign to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by carbon monoxide. It sets out four simple steps:

  1. Fit audible carbon monoxide alarms in every room with a fuel-burning appliance;
  2. Ensure that appliances are properly ventilated at all times;
  3. Ensure that all fuel-burning appliances (such as boilers, cookers, and fires) are regularly serviced; and
  4. Get to know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.


It’s important to fit audible carbon monoxide alarms, ideally in every room where there’s a fuel-burning appliance. The cheap ‘black spot’ detectors will not actively alert you to the presence of carbon monoxide, and we don’t recommend them.

Basic audible alarms start at around £15 and are widely available from bigger supermarkets and DIY stores.


Boilers, fires and stoves need a constant supply of air for complete combustion to happen. Any blockages can result in the appliance not working correctly and carbon monoxide coming into the home instead of being safely channelled outside.

Check and clean boiler flues, and check the outside vents to ensure that plants haven’t grown over the outlet. If you have an open fire, chimneys should be swept at least once a year. If you have a wood-burning fire or stove, check and empty the ash can daily.

Service your appliances

All gas appliances should be serviced and checked annually by a Gas Safe-registered engineer. To find a registered engineer in your area, visit the Gas Safe Register website or call 0800 408 5500.

If you rent your flat or house, it’s your landlord’s legal responsibility to have appliances checked every 12 months by a registered engineer and provide you with a safety certificate.

But it’s not only gas appliances that should be checked. There’s been a huge rise in the popularity of wood-burning stoves. And just like gas appliances, if badly fitted, maintained or ventilated, they can result in carbon monoxide poisoning.

For servicing and testing of solid fuel appliancescontact HETAS. For oil burning appliances contact OFTEC.

Know the signs

Exposure to carbon monoxide produces symptoms that are very similar to those of colds, flu or food poisoning, so can easily go undetected. They include headache, dizziness, nausea and breathlessness.

Other warning signs of possible carbon monoxide poisoning are that symptoms: only occur at home; are seasonal (eg headaches when the central heating is on); and are also being experienced by other family members and pets.

Also look out for evidence of carbon monoxide: gas flames that burn yellow or orange instead of blue; a pilot light that frequently goes out; excessive condensation in a room where there’s an appliance; and soot or staining around an appliance.

What can you do to help?

  • Encourage families to install audible carbon monoxide alarms.
  • Get something out to your networks – why not embed a link to this article and a link to Stacey’s story on your website or in e-newsletters or emails.
  • Put up a poster or hand out factsheets. Both are available to download from the Be Alarmed website.
  • If you work in a school, download free teaching resources from the Gas Safe CharityThe resources include films, presentations, activity sheets and an interactive activity. 
  • If you work with parents, run an interactive session on carbon monoxide using our Toxic Tales DVD pack. It includes a short film on CO poisoning, support cards with facts and figures, key safety messages and discussion ideas, plus a colourful, easy-to-read flyer How safe am I from poisonous gas?
  • You can also buy the flyers separately for just £7.45 plus P&P. They explain the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning, the symptoms and what parents can do to protect themselves and their families.