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Fighting for a Gas Safe Nation: Tackling Carbon Monoxide

23 September 2022

OVER THE last decade, carbon monoxide poisoning has caused an average of 162 deaths yearly in the UK. That’s equivalent to one life being lost every few days. Here, Ian Ballinger shares some expert insight on achieving carbon monoxide compliance and future-proofing properties.

Carbon monoxide can kill quickly and without warning as it cannot be seen, tasted or smelt. A carbon monoxide alarm is the only certified source of detection, but more than 2.3 million households in the UK are currently without a working carbon monoxide alarm.

One-in-five homes have at least one faulty gas appliance on the premises, which is the most common source of carbon monoxide poisoning. To keep more people safe, the laws are changing for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in UK homes, meaning that more domestic properties will be legally required to have such alarms in situ. Indeed, the UK Government has committed to update the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 to provide greater protection for social housing residents.

From 1 October this year, housing providers will be required by law to install smoke alarms in all social housing, while carbon monoxide alarms will have to be fitted in social and private rented properties where there’s a fixed combustion appliance, excluding gas cookers. The regulation changes will also require carbon monoxide alarms to be fitted when new appliances such as gas boilers or fires are installed in any dwelling.

In those cases where repair or replacement of an alarm is necessary, housing providers must act ‘as soon as reasonably practical’ after being advised of the problem. Housing providers should ensure that any carbon monoxide alarms they purchase are fully certified to EN 50291-1 and carry a third party approval mark, such as the British Standards Institution (BSI) Kitemark, to ensure compliance with the latest safety standard.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a rise in counterfeit safety products appearing on the market with misleading performance and quality claims and fake CE mark compliance putting lives at risk. The BSI Kitemark demonstrates that product samples have been independently tested and are compliant. It also indicates that the BSI has assessed the place of manufacture to ensure production is controlled, sampled and checked.

Future-proofing properties  

As we continue to see legislative requirements advance across the UK, housing providers should not wait for further guidance changes to reinforce their Duty of Care. In the run-up to the new Scottish Tolerable Standard, the industry saw a marked shift towards wireless interconnected alarms (often referred to as interlinked alarms). Interconnected smoke alarms have been a requirement of the UK Building Regulations since the 1990s.

The latest (ie 2019) revision to BS 5839-6 also requires interconnected smoke alarms in all rental properties. Historically, this has been achieved using a physical wire to link all the alarms in a property. However, this method is cost-prohibitive in retrofit. Beyond the speed of installation, it’s far easier and faster to add additional smoke, heat or carbon monoxide alarms to a wireless system, which is paramount when you consider that UK legalisation continues to evolve at such a rapid pace.

The National Fire Chiefs Council recognises that, although many organisations collect information relevant to carbon monoxide safety, there’s an incomplete picture of the risk, exposure and response in the UK. Choosing the right alarms and wireless interconnecting technology enables the cost-effective Internet of Things (IoT) integration of new and existing installations simply by adding a connected gateway to the alarm network. This delivers further benefits as gateway devices can have onboard sensors, enabling a more comprehensive picture of what’s going on in a given property.

In addition, gateway devices may be connected to an open system, bringing together a range of devices in the home such as smart health monitors, panic buttons and connected smoke alarms. Having a hub that different technologies are able to feed into can ensure that more residents receive holistic support, thereby increasing the likelihood of preventing additional risks to health and decreasing associated costs in the longer term.

Bridging the gap

IoT and connected fire safety technologies using Artificial Intelligence can also help to bridge the gap in communication between a property and its tenant as housing providers benefit from silent network testing automatically conducted every 18 hours for each property. If and when required, this helps to provide a clear due diligence trail of compliance and confirms the status and performance of each alarm.

The remote monitoring capabilities that connected technologies offer can help to support a significant reduction in overheads because the costs and requirements for physical property visits and subsequent missed appointments are eliminated.

Housing providers can also demonstrate Best Practice by installing alarms that meet an LD1 category (ie the highest level of domestic protection available). LD1 alarms can future-proof properties from regulatory changes and avoid an average £100 fee per call-out to update devices in order that they then meet any other new standards.

Ultimately, carbon monoxide poisoning takes lives, but new regulatory changes mean people living in the social rented sector will soon be safer in their homes. Meanwhile, advances in safety technology can help housing providers go ‘above and beyond’ the latest requirements to reinforce their Duty of Care and remain ahead of future changes to legislation.

Ian Ballinger is Head of Projects and Certification at FireAngel (www.fireangel.co.uk)

*Gas Safety Week 2022 ran from 12-18 September to raise awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and the importance of achieving the highest standards of safety