A report launching in Parliament today (19 January) warns that those involved in promoting carbon monoxide (CO) safety must change their approach if the UK is to see a meaningful reduction in the number of CO-related injuries and fatalities.
Carbon Monoxide: From Awareness to Action, by the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group, calls on government, industry and all those involved in CO safety campaigning to use the behavioural sciences to improve poisoning-prevention efforts.
It said that approaches towards promoting CO safety that rely too heavily on general public awareness-raising may on their own prove “insufficient” to ensure individuals and families are adequately protected from the dangers posed by the colourless, odourless gas.
While recognising awareness-raising is a vital first step in the protection process, it calls on all stakeholders involved – including government and energy, fuel and leisure industries – to go further and adopt key behavioural science techniques that have proven effective in other areas of public policy, not least in reducing domestic energy use and improving public health.
The report argues that by better understanding how people interact with the variety of environments in which CO poisonings occur, the different fuel-burning appliances and gas-detection systems present, and the manner in which people receive and interpret messages containing important safety warnings, government and industry can better influence behaviour and radically improve the efficacy of CO safety initiatives.
Focusing primarily on three key areas – domestic appliances and environments, detection and technology, and campsite and boating environments – the report makes more than 20 recommendations.
It follows a nine month-inquiry chaired by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff and Dr Rachel McCloy, director of the Centre for Applied Behavioural Science at the University of Reading.
The inquiry found that alongside awareness-raising, data, context and messengers are all vitally important factors in determining the effectiveness of CO safety efforts, influencing heavily the extent to which safety messages reach – and are understood in – each of the myriad situations in which CO poisonings occur.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff said: “What this report is calling for is an unashamedly radical step-change in how we approach CO safety in the UK. Raising public awareness of the dangers of CO poisoning is an important first step, but we need a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of the CO poisoning environment if we are to successfully eradicate all future occurrences.
“Behavioural science offers us that deeper understanding and will enable us to move from awareness to action.”