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RELIABILITY OF CARBON MONOXIDE ALARMS: HSE PUBLISHES RESEARCH REPORT

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A new report into carbon monoxide (CO) alarms suggests that there is ...
A new report into carbon monoxide (CO) alarms suggests that there is

uncertainty about their long-term reliability, according to the

Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

This follows the publication of a research report which contains the

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

Industry (DTI).

'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

safety policy.

'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

compulsory.'

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.

Notes

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

2000, states:

'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

detector reliability.

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

resolved.'

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

CF83 3GG.

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