EVERY year in the UK, more than 200 people are taken to hospital with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, which leads to around 50 deaths.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that has no smell or taste. Breathing it in can make you unwell, and it can kill if you're exposed to high levels.

Indoors, CO comes from appliances which burn fuels such as wood, oil, natural gas, propane, kerosene, coal and gasoline. CO levels in a home may also vary depending on the presence of cigarette smoke and types of heating and cooking fuels. Incorrectly installed, poorly maintained or poorly ventilated household appliances such as cookers, heaters and central heating boilers are the most common causes of accidental exposure to carbon monoxide.

Local energy specialist Kate Urwin offers training for frontline workers at organisations across Bradford and Keighley.

“Often, people are unaware of the dangers. Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer because you cannot see it or smell it. You just don’t know it is there.”

It is also tasteless and non-irritating. If the early signs of CO poisoning are ignored, a person may lose consciousness and be unable to escape the danger. More people die from carbon monoxide exposure than any other kind of poisoning.

“It could be a boiler, gas fire or open fire or oil-fired appliance,” says Kate, who runs Yorkshire Energy Doctor and is delivering the initiative thanks to a grant from Northern Gas Networks’ Community Promises Fund.

“You are more at risk if you don’t have your boiler serviced every year or not properly maintained.”

She adds: “You should avoid blocking any air vents, keep chimneys swept and look out for signs such as gas flames burning yellow or orange instead of blue. You should also consider getting a CO detector costing around £15,” says Kate, who also offers help in areas such as switching utility supplier and giving energy saving tips.

The training is for staff who visit people in their homes, such as housing officers, charities such as Age UK and family support workers,” “It is open to anyone who deals with vulnerable households - families with young children, the elderly, people with long-term health conditions or disabilities. They tend to be at home a lot, so they are potentially at greater risk.”

People living in housing association or council properties are more likely to have carbon monoxide detectors. “Housing associations tend to fit them, but those living in private rented or their own homes may not have one,” says Kate.

When carbon monoxide is breathed in, it enters your bloodstream and mixes with haemoglobin - the part of red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body - to form carboxyhaemoglobin. When this happens, the blood is no longer able to carry oxygen, and this lack of oxygen causes the body’s cells and tissue to fail and die.

Kate also gives talks at community premises and at hosts information stands at events as well as speaking directly to residents.

“If people need more in-depth support I can refer them for a home visit,” she says. “I want people to be aware of the signs to look out for.” These can include having a dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea and shortness of breath.

People of pensionable ago with a disability, chronic illness or hearing or visual impairment can sign up for a Priority Services Register with their energy company, entitling them to help including free energy saving advice and annual gas safety checks.

“A lot of people will not know that,” says Kate.

The initiative also addresses damp and condensation. “This is another challenge in older, hard-to-heat properties,” adds Kate. “Condensation is very common in homes and the black mould that often results can cause health problems.”

Simple steps can be taken to reduce the problem, such as putting lids on saucepans, avoiding drying clothing inside, keeping kitchen and bathroom doors closed and turning on extractor fans or opening windows in those rooms.

“You can also check whether your home is insulated and keep a gap between furniture and walls to allow air to circulate.”

Kate can also offer advice on reducing the cost of heating your home.

The Community Promises Fund supports local communities across the north of England

Head of Social Strategy at Northern Gas Networks Tom Bell says: “Kate’s direct engagement and understanding of the best approaches with communities mean that we will be able to communicate directly with them and with individual residents.”

*Kate can be contacted on 07738 818391 or email kate@yorkshireenergydoctor.org.uk

Graphic from Corgi HomePlan