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New statutory requirements for CO alarm safety welcomed

Gas Safe Europe Ltd has welcomed the decision to make fitting CO alarms statutory

The decision, by the All Party Parliamentary Gas Safety Group and Greg Baker MP, Minister of State for Climate Change, is to make fitting CO alarms a statutory requirement in every ‘at risk’ home – and insist on regular functionality checks.

Gas Safe’s John Stones, inventor of the company’s Detectagas product, has campaigned for more than 15 years to make these vital sensor checks a requirement and believes it is a move that will save lives.

The UK All Party Group’s decision arrived shortly before a new report from the American Journal of Public Health which points to the scale of the risk posed by faulty CO alarms in the States.  The report records unprecedented levels of residential carbon monoxide failure rates in the US where there are more than 38 million alarms installed.

Talking about testing in the UK and the US John Stones said:  “Currently many alarms are sold with guarantees of up to seven years.  The alarms feature test buttons, but they don’t measure the viability of the gas sensor – the most critical element.  These units’ test buttons merely register that the circuit is functioning and the battery is still live; that means a gas detection sensor can fail at any time - unnoticed.

“For years this has given a false indication of safety.  Our own recent testing of CO alarms in a number of social housing facilities has revealed significant detector failure levels.  Our checks at a Manchester housing association found that 20% of the CO alarms installed only last year failed to sense CO.  In Blackpool we found that 50% of a housing association’s newly installed alarms were not sensing gas despite the units passing the battery test.  The good news is that all have now been replaced without quibble and free of charge by the alarm manufacturers

“This is something I have been campaigning for, and genuinely worried about, for more than fifteen years.  Given that we produce a CO alarm sensor testing product it’s understandable that we would welcome the Group’s decision.  However, that doesn’t mean there the threat hasn’t been real, widespread and, until now, largely ignored. 

“The All Party Parliamentary Gas Safety Group is to be congratulated on its enlightened thinking.  It is ensuring people are protected by having an alarm fitted and guaranteeing regular checks on the sensors – as well as the batteries and circuitry - of CO alarms.  That’s got to be good news.”

In America there are around 450 deaths each year attributed to unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning and a further 15,000 related hospital emergency visits.  The new report from the American Journal of Public Health suggests that around half of the CO alarms subjected to testing failed to function properly. (see AJPH report synopsis  - PDF available on request)

Multi award winning product Detectagas, as the name suggests, tests the viability of the alarm’s sensor simply and inexpensively using a harmless spray of gas from a Detectagas aerosol.

The UK decision, marking a long overdue change to practical testing of alarm units, was announced after a meeting between Barry Sheerman MP, Co Chair of the All Parliamentary Gas Safety Group, and Greg Barker MP, Minister of State for Climate Change and the changes have been embraced as part of the Green Deal.  Mr Sheerman led a delegation of charity and gas industry experts, including representatives from the Gas Safety Trust, the Gas Industry Safety Group, The Council of Gas Detection and Environmental Monitoring, and industry representatives.

Mr Stones added:  “We would urge testing to begin as soon as possible. Increased energy efficiency measures in homes can lead to lower levels of ventilation and, consequently, a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

“There is no doubt that CO alarms saves lives but only if they are sensing gas.  Sensor inclusive testing of CO alarms becomes law in the USA from January 1st 2012 and we would push for early adoption of stringent safety checks in the UK.

“We estimate that 18 million CO alarms have been sold in the UK since the publication of the British Standard in 1996 and that half of these are beyond their expected sensor life.  As sales increase, the problem will compound, so these new requirements need to be adopted quickly.”