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Carbon monoxide: how to avoid the silent killer on your holidays


How safe is your holiday apartment's fire? Be safe. Carry a CO alarm.

Some things can never be taken lightly. And one of them is carbon monoxide (CO). This toxic, odourless gas is responsible for killing about 40 people annually in the UK. Each year we hear horror stories of people being killed by it and the court cases that follow. In one case in 2015 a giant tour operator was found to have breached their duty of care after two young children were found dead in their holiday apartment in Corfu.

This is serious. No matter how reliable your tour operator, how well regarded the hotel or how sure you might be that you will be safe on your holiday, you can never be 100% sure that the appliances – gas fires, boilers and wood burners – are totally safe. So while many of us wouldn’t ask to see service certificates or check the dates of services on boilers when we arrive at a holiday destination, there’s no way of knowing if an appliance is dangerous.

How can you guarantee you will be safe?

Take a CO alarm. It’s as simple as that. While The Foreign and Commonwealth Office doesn’t recommend that British nationals travelling abroad should take carbon monoxide alarms with them when they travel (although they do signpost the ‘Be Alarmed’ campaign), it seems to be the only way of being sure that there is no risk. Carbon monoxide alarms are relatively cheap (around £15) and will emit a shrill alarm if there is carbon monoxide present in the air.

What CO alarm to go for

CO alarms can be bought at all good DIY stored and from some supermarkets as well as from energy suppliers. There are lots available online too. Look for alarms marked with the ‘EN50291′ standard. This may be written as BSEN 50291 or EN50291 and with the ‘CE’ mark, both of which should be found on the packaging and product.

How to use your CO alarm abroad

There are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to placing CO alarms. They need to be placed in rooms where there are appliances such as boilers or fires. They should be placed at head height so they test the air you are breathing. They should not be placed too near fires or appliances and definitely not in cupboards or near steam or on the ceiling as with smoke detectors.

If the alarm sounds, what should you do?

Firstly, make sure you know the difference between a low battery warning and an alarm. The sounds will be different.

If you are on holiday and your CO alarm sounds, open windows and get out of the property immediately. If you feel unwell (nausea, dizziness, vomiting or headache) seek immediate medical attention. Alert the landlord or hotel representative. Demand to be moved and request that an engineer or maintenance person is called immediately. Do not be fobbed off with excuses – opening windows is not good enough defence.

How do you know if you are suffering from CO poisoning?

CO is odourless and tasteless. So the first thing you may notice is feeling unwell. There are six symptoms of CO poisoning:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Breathlessness
  • Collapse
  • Loss of consciousness

If you suspect CO may be entering the place you are staying because you are experiencing some of these symptoms, get into the fresh air first, then  seek medical attention.

Camping? CO kills on the campsite too

People become ill each year on camping trips when using BBQs (disposable or otherwise) because they use them without enough ventilation. This happens when they take a BBQ into a tent or cook over a gas stove or hob in the enclosed space of a tent or camper van. Disposable BBQs are especially dangerous as they emit CO long after their usefulness as cooking instruments wanes. If in doubt, never take a BBQ into a tent, never cook unless there is adequate ventilation and never use cooking appliance or BBQs as heat sources on cold nights.



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