Gas appliances


The problem

Every year about 14 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by gas appliances and flues which have not been properly installed or maintained. Many others also suffer ill health. When gas does not burn properly, as with other fuels such as coal, wood or oil, excess carbon monoxide is produced, which is poisonous.

You can’t see it. You can’t taste it. You can’t even smell it. But carbon monoxide can kill without warning in just a matter of hours.

You are particularly at risk when you are asleep because you cannot recognise the early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. These include tiredness, drowsiness, headache, nausea, pains in the chest and stomach pains. These symptoms can mimic many common ailments and may easily be confused with flu
or simple tiredness.

If you or your family experience the above symptoms, and you believe carbon monoxide may be involved, you must seek urgent medical advice. Your doctor will need to test a blood or breath sample. Carbon monoxide quickly leaves the blood and tests may be inaccurate if taken more than four hours after exposure has ended.

You are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if:

There is a particular risk if you sleep in a room where an appliance that is not of the
room-sealed type (eg a conventional gas fire) is left burning at night. (Flue outlets
for room-sealed appliances are commonly located on an external wall at a low level
protected by a cage rather than at or above roof level.)

A safe gas appliance

A dangerous gas appliance

The answers

NEVER use a gas appliance if you think it is not working properly. Signs to look out for include yellow or orange flames (except for fuel-effect fires which display this colour flame), soot or stains around the appliance and pilot lights which frequently blow out.

NEVER cover an appliance or block the convection air vents.
NEVER block or obstruct any fixed ventilation grilles or air bricks.
NEVER block or cover outside flues.

CAUTION Whenever draught exclusion, ceiling or extraction fans, double glazing or conservatory extensions are fitted to a room containing a gas appliance, the appliance should subsequently be checked for safety.

ALL gas consumers are advised to have appliances checked for safety at least every 12 months by a Gas Safe registered engineer.

You could be entitled to a free safety check. If you are over 60, chronically sick, disabled, deaf or hearing-impaired, blind or visually impaired, you are entitled to join your supplier’s Priority Service Register. It is free to join and once a member you are entitled, among other things, to a free annual gas safety check (unless you live in rented accommodation where it is your landlord’s duty to ensure the check is done). For more information look at the back of your gas bill.

CARBON MONOXIDE ALARMS are a useful back-up precaution but must NOT be regarded as a substitute for proper installation and maintenance of gas equipment by a Gas Safe registered engineer. If you decide to buy a carbon monoxide alarm, ensure it meets current safety standards (BS EN 50291) and carries the Kitemark. If in doubt ask a member of staff for advice. Always follow the manufacturer’s siting instructions.

If you smell gas, or suspect there is a gas escape or a carbon monoxide leak, you should immediately do the following:

The law

The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 place duties on gas consumers, installers, suppliers and landlords. These regulations link with other safety controls on combustion equipment, eg the Building Regulations, which are standards for ventilation and flues. For your own protection remember:

Further reading

If you would like more detailed information on the subject, you will find the following HSE publication useful: Safety in the installation and use of gas systems and appliances. Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998.
Approved Code of Practice and guidance L56 (Second edition) HSE Books 1998 ISBN 978 0 7176 1635 0.

Also, for safety information on gas, solid fuel and oil burning appliances, and information on the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, look at the Department of Health booklet Keep warm keep well (updated annually). Download it from or, or write to Department of Health Publications, PO Box 777, London SE1 6XH, Tel: 0300 123 1002.

Further information

HSE priced and free publications are available by mail order from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA Tel: 01787 881165 Fax: 01787 313995 Website: (HSE priced publications are also available from bookshops and free leaflets can be downloaded from HSE’s website: British Standards can be obtained in PDF or hard copy formats from the BSI online shop: or by contacting BSI Customer Services for hard copies only Tel: 020 8996 9001 e-mail: For information about health and safety ring HSE’s Infoline Tel: 0845 345 0055 Fax: 0845 408 9566 Textphone: 0845 408 9577 e-mail: or write to HSE Information Services, Caerphilly Business Park, Caerphilly CF83 3GG.

HSE Gas Safety Advice Line
Tel: 0800 300 363

HSE’s Gas Safety website:
Gas Safe Register website:


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