uncertainty about their long-term reliability, according to the
Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
results of a two-year project studying a representative range of
alarms and sensor technologies on the market. The research,
undertaken by Advantica Technologies Ltd (formerly BG Technology) was
funded jointly by HSE, BG plc and the Department of Trade and
'The report reinforces HSE's view that the first line of defence
against CO poisoning should be proper annual safety checks and
maintenance of appliances,' said Barry Watkinson, HSE's head of gas
'We believe alarms will have an increasing role to play in the future
as a back up, but more needs to be done to ensure their long-term
reliability before we can reconsider the case for making them
Of the 30 alarms studied by Advantica, six were selected for a
one-year field trial and two were judged to have operated reliably
over an extended period.
'It is important to stress this was not a comprehensive market
survey. The report does not mean alarms currently on sale would not
alert you in the event of a gas - or solid fuel - appliance spilling
dangerous amounts of CO', said Mr Watkinson. 'Some of them would
work, and might save lives.
'People should continue to have their appliances maintained using a
CORGI-registered installer, and have routine annual checks to make
sure appliances are safe. If you do buy an alarm, make sure that it
is kitemarked to British Standard BS 7860.'
'We have discussed the report with CoGDEM (the Council of Gas
Detection and Environmental Monitoring) and both parties have agreed
to work actively with other stakeholders to ensure that such devices
realise their full life-saving potential.'
The report, 'Joint industry project on carbon monoxide issues:
Long-term reliability of domestic CO alarms', by Advantica
Technologies Ltd, Loughborough LE11 3GR (HSE Contract research report
CRR 360/2001), can be downloaded from HSE's website.
Printed copies are also available from HSE Books, PO Box 1999,
Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2WA, ISBN 0 7176 2085 9, price£25.
1. The report and the work it describes were funded jointly by HSE,
BG plc and DTI. Its contents, including any opinions and/or
conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not
reflect HSE or DTI policy.
2. The report concludes that the best indication of adequate
initial performance for alarms is a kitemark to BS 7860: 1996
'Specification for carbon monoxide detectors (electrical) for
domestic use'. However the only extended test of sensor stability
in this standard is limited to three months, and is not carried out
in conditions representative of the domestic environment. The
research suggests this test does not provide a guarantee of long
term performance in the home. Recent changes in the European
specification for CO alarms (EN 50291), to be reflected in a
revised BSI standard, do not alter this situation.
3. 30 models of alarm, covering the range of sensor technologies
available at the time, were subjected to initial laboratory
screening, based on the British Standard, with a smaller number
being selected for a one-year field trial for reliability. Of
those, two models (only one of which, the SF 330KM from SF
Detection, is currently available in the UK) still performed within
specification at the end of this trial.
4. The research contributes to developing CO alarm standards, and
was not designed to be a comprehensive survey. It is not possible
from the results to predict how other alarms passing the screening
test would have performed in the field trial. The report also
acknowledges developments in sensor technology since the research
was carried out. Further field trials have been performed on newer
models of alarm, the results of which will be published by HSE
later this year.
5. Recommendation 33 of the Health and Safety Commission's
Fundamental Review of Gas Safety, submitted to ministers in October
'We recognise the potential that CO alarms offer for helping to
reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisonings and believe it likely
that they will become increasingly established as a safeguard (as
with smoke alarms, now required under Building Regulations in
certain circumstances). However, until questions of long term
reliability/stability have been addressed, it would be premature to
consider imposing a mandatory requirement for alarms to be fitted.
To progress an early resolution of this issue, HSE should now
actively engage in further (industry backed) research, with a view
to developing suitable criteria in standard, for securing increased
Although a legal requirement is not proposed for the present, we
nevertheless recommend that reference to the potential contribution
of CO alarms should made in gas (and other fuel) safety
publicity/guidance while stressing that they are to be regarded as
a a back-up precaution i.e. supplementary to (not in substitution
for) proper installation and maintenance of appliances/flues.
The position on possible legal controls, for example, whether
alarms might be required in certain targeted premises, should be
reviewed again if (and when) current technical questions are
6. CoGDEM is the trade association for suppliers of CO alarms to
the UK market. Established in 1974, it also represents suppliers of
domestic appliance testers and industrial detection systems.
Enquiries to CoGDEM administrator, David Curtis, on 0800 0169 4457.
Public Enquiries: Call HSE's InfoLine, Tel: 08701 545500, or write
to: HSE Information Services, Caerphilly Business Park, Caerphilly