Smoke alarms are mandatory in Australian homes to protect us from the dangers of fire. However, an even more insidious threat can go undetected without proper safeguards.

The Silent killerm Carbon monoxide (CO) a colourless, odourless gas that can cause serious and long-lasting health problems.

Shockingly, only one in six (15%) Australians have a CO alarm installed in their homes, leaving households across the country vulnerable to this danger, so it’s essential that Aussies take the necessary steps to protect themselves and their families and be more CO-safe.

Further research from Brooks Australia shows over half (58%) of Australians don’t have a CO alarm installed while more than a quarter (28%) don’t know the difference between a carbon monoxide alarm and a smoke alarm.

CO is commonly found in household appliances from barbeques to engine exhausts such as on a car or boat.

  • Wood fire
  • BBQ
  • Indoor gas heater
  • Generator
  • outdoor heater
  • Gas stove
  • Car exhaust

Any appliance that burns natural gas, coal, oil, bottled gas, paraffin, wood, petrol, diesel or charcoal will produce some levels of CO.

Considered a “silent killer” since it is odourless, invisible and tasteless, the gas can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces which leads to poisoning if people and animals breathe it in.

What makes it so dangerous is that red blood cells pick up CO faster than oxygen. The symptoms of CO poisoning sometimes go unnoticed as it’s similar to the flu with people suffering headaches, drowsiness, nausea and fatigue. Small leaks can leave lasting damage to a person’s lungs, heart and brain if exposed over long periods with bad CO leaks, a person can be left unconscious and dying within minutes.

Cathy Brand, CEO of Brooks Australia, says since there is little public awareness around carbon monoxide, it is vital to bring attention to the potential dangers the gas poses.

“Our research shows that worryingly a significant number of Aussies are unaware of the ease with which carbon monoxide can be generated in their own homes and the risk it poses to their family’s health,” Brand says.

“Since carbon monoxide alarms are not mandatory, it is not something we would give a first or even second thought to unlike installing a smoke alarm. Both devices are lifesaving and important to protect your loved ones, so while it’s not required it is still worth installing them in your house as it is a very dangerous gas.”

In fact, around one in six accidental poisoning hospitalisations are attributed to gases and vapours including carbon monoxide.

Since there are no current regulations around installing carbon monoxide alarms in households, there have been calls for over a decade to make carbon monoxide alarms mandatory in homes, including a private member’s bill that passed in the Federal Parliament in 2011.

Brand says, that while it is important to prevent leakage of CO, it can sometimes be hard to tell if that is happening.

“CO alarms are designed to warn people about the presence of the gas, so if the level of carbon monoxide in the air reaches a certain threshold, typically measured in parts per million, the alarm will sound an alert to warn people in the vicinity,” she says.

“It is recommended to have carbon monoxide alarms installed in rooms with portable gas or oil heaters, parking garages, living rooms with high occupancy and bedrooms above or adjacent to the rooms with appliances.”

When does carbon monoxide poisoning occur?

Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by inhaling the gas, which is produced when fuels don’t burn completely. This often occurs when outside heating or cooking items are brought inside and used in an enclosed area, especially at night when people are looking for easy or inexpensive heating.

Poisoning also occurs when cars, boats or generators (especially diesel) are left running without adequate airflow or in an enclosed space.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

  • headache
  • nausea and stomach pain
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • fainting
  • confusion
  • tiredness

Carbon monoxide poisoning can affect anyone. People at higher risk include:

  • babies
  • pregnant women and their unborn babies
  • elderly
  • people with chronic medical problems, like heart disease

What to remember

Tiny Hearts Education also recently shared a post to remind families to be aware of this silent killer this Winter.

One follower shared how she accidentally knocked a gas stove burner on after wiping it down not realising she then sat down and proceeded to fall asleep, and if her partner had not arrived home when he did she would not be alive today. Scary thought!

Carbon monoxide poisonings occur most often in winter.

As the weather gets colder, I wanted to give this important reminder to parents. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning has occured:

➡️Turn off all gas appliances
➡️Open doors and windows
➡️Leave the property
➡️Seek medical advice immediately and if an emergency, call 000

Read more: Is your home winter safe? – MamaMag