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Make a Difference 2019

The myths and message behind carbon monoxide safety

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Dmitriy Yermishin

Owen Wilson

Networks Safety Manager, Gas Networks Ireland

Christina van der Kamp

Corporate Responsibility Manager, Gas Networks Ireland

Gas Networks Ireland has linked its campaign about carbon monoxide safety to an important and effective education initiative reaching thousands of primary school children.

Many people associate carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning exclusively with gas appliances. But that’s wrong. The fact is that if you burn any kind of fuel using any kind of appliance, you’re potentially at risk of CO poisoning.

Because CO gas is poisonous it must be taken seriously stresses Owen Wilson, Gas Network Ireland’s Networks Safety Manager. On average, CO gas kills six people in Ireland every year.

The message on carbon monoxide

“We’ve divided the message about carbon monoxide safety into four themes,” he says. “The first looks at sources of CO in the home, and explains that it can be produced by burning any fuel, including coal, turf, oil, gas or wood.”

The second is concerned with understanding the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as flu-like symptoms. “Additionally, there might be evidence of sooting or staining around appliances and condensation on windows or walls,” says Wilson. “Contrary to what some might think, carbon monoxide doesn’t have a smell, which is why it’s so difficult to recognise; but if it’s escaping from an appliance, the chances are that other fumes will be escaping too — and they may have an odour.”

In 2014, just 25% of us owned a carbon monoxide alarm. Today that number has risen to 65%.

The third message is around prevention; by ensuring that all fuel-burning appliances are installed and serviced annually by a competent service agent for your fuel type. For gas appliances, this is a Registered Gas Installer. Appliances should be used safely (don’t bring barbecues under cover, for instance, or use your cooker to heat a room) and have chimneys and flues swept regularly.

Finally, it’s vital to protect yourself against CO poisoning with a carbon monoxide alarm that complies with European Standard EN 50291 and carries the CE mark and a mark of independent certification.

“There’s plenty of evidence that more and more people are aware of the danger of CO poisoning,” says Wilson. “For instance, in 2014, just 25% of us owned a carbon monoxide alarm. Today that number has risen to 65%.”

Linking carbon monoxide safety with CSR initiatives

A nationwide primary school programme called Energize sets out to inspire children between 10 and 12 years of age to take an interest in STEM subjects. The concept is that greater STEM understanding will engender greater understanding of carbon monoxide safety.

“The programme includes a module on safety in the home, which we’ve used successfully to promote carbon monoxide awareness,” explains Christina van der Kamp, Corporate Responsibility Manager, Gas Networks Ireland. Last year, the programme reached 5,195 students in 155 schools across the country.

What’s more, feedback has been positive, with 96% of children who completed the module able to identify symptoms of CO poisoning.

The public needs to know about carbon monoxide

“We have to be creative in order to keep the subject in the public eye. Plus, there’s always new information to get across. For example, it’s great to see a huge uptake in carbon monoxide alarms… but do people realise that these devices will typically need to be replaced after seven to ten years?”

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