Published January 2021
This year we are not producing a press pack, but we are updating our data and writing a report.
Recent donation of £100,000 to the charity
A wealthy donor has very kindly given CO-Gas Safety £100,000. We know who this wonderful person is. Sadly, due to the tragic loss of a precious family member to carbon monoxide, understandably this family wishes this gift to be anonymous. We are very grateful for this generous gift which will ensure the charity can keep going and do a lot more useful work.
Donation of £2,150 from the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps in March 2020.
This donation is hugely appreciated and arrived in the nick of time as funds were very depleted as a result of our work for the 25th anniversary in January 2020.
Lawson Wight, the Guild’s chairman was the originator of the protocol. This protocol ensures that if CO is suspected, the scene of ‘the crime’ is left undisturbed so the appliance is not touched except to turn it off, nor is the chimney swept until the survivors can decide what to do and whether they need an investigation. Lawson’s work on this has resulted in a Fire & Rescue Service officer in Cumbria taking this idea forward and trying to interest to the FRS generally. This protocol is key to our work of finding the source of the CO, making the situation safe and proving CO.
There is now a Federation of British Chimney Sweeps, which is a huge step forward and Lawson is working to promote the protocol there too. If only gas engineers did the same!
Donation from npower of £22,134.00 in December
Stephanie met Matthew Cole some years ago and also, Laura Parkes, PR, and we got on very well. Npower sponsored our press pack for several years and we worked together on that. Sadly, npower no longer exists and both Matt and Laura are now at the Fuel Bank. This works in a similar way to the Food Bank and we look forward very much indeed to working with them in the future.
Promise of a donation of up to £20,000 from Kane International for a year-long CO awareness campaign in December
This is also absolutely brilliant, and the campaign will culminate in Christmas 2021. Rob Lyon is doing the film work and we are involving survivors. Rob’s ambition is to win a competition. We are very grateful to all at Kane, particularly to Jonathan Kane, who has supported the charity through thick and thin. This initiative is on top of £15,000 which Kane very kindly gave the charity to keep it going in 2020. The charity costs around £25,000 per year to run mainly for data work and victim support.
CO-Gas Safety very sadly lost both our founder, Molly Maher and also Baroness Maddock, past patron.
Molly see https://www.co-gassafety.co.uk/sad-news/ & https://www.co-gassafety.co.uk/film-of-molly-maher-by-ray-kemp-2012-but-still-so-true-today/ & Baroness Maddock please see https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jul/12/lady-maddock & https://www.co-gassafety.co.uk/2020/07/
2020 – Looking back on the year
There is an obvious division – ‘BC’ i.e. Before Covid-19, then ‘L’ or Lockdown due to it. Hopefully we will see ‘AC’ after Covid. Despite Lockdown we have recorded about 200 items on our list of ‘work done’ which can be found https://www.co-gassafety.co.uk/information/list-of-work-done/ Lockdown does provide more time to write up what we’ve done but no doubt I’ve still missed recording some.
January 2020 marked the 25th anniversary of CO-Gas Safety’s launch at the House of Commons.
In March, there was an excellent conference on CO in Lille organised by APRIM and CoGDEM. I attended. Sadly, Sue Westwood was too unwell with what turned out to be Covid-19.
I later wrote to Isabella Myers asking if her CO-Med group (under APPCOG) would approach HSE about the two recommendations made by HSC/E in 2000. These were a levy to raise awareness and for research & for the gas emergency service to test gas appliances for CO.
We are extremely worried about both the confusion between CO and Covid-19 as they have similar symptoms and the difficulties Covid-19 causes normal servicing. Just this week it has been reported that demand for installation and servicing of boilers is down 34%. https://tinyurl.com/yyc4kry3
In these days when climate change is more in the news, we all need to work to make sure appliances are properly installed, regularly maintained, have chimneys and flues swept and the need to ensure adequate ventilation. The result will be less pollution indoors and out.
Air pollution outdoors was found to be a contributing factor to the tragic death of nine year old Ella Kissi-Debrah and a warning canary for all of us; but those who’ve died or been injured by CO indoors are also canaries, yet we could change this. Sadly green energy won’t happen overnight.
New data from China shows that exposure to air pollution can increase the risk of dying from myocardial infarction. https://tinyurl.com/y5fvzw8n
CO-Gas Safety data – 25 years
January 2021 marks over 25 years of data collection, collation and publication from 01.09.95. By data, we mean the careful collection, particularly of deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide (CO) now run by Jennifer Wood. We also attempt to collect the near misses/injuries caused by CO.
Deaths are easier for data collection because the deaths, recognised as CO, have to have an inquest, so there is good evidence given in a court of law. Coroners and their officers have been invaluable to the charity and we are extremely grateful to them. We thought it would be difficult to exclude suicides, but this has been far easier than expected. The only difficult case so far was either a murder or a suicide, but either way, it was intentional so excluded this from our data.
However, we are very aware that our data only consists of examples of deaths by unintentional CO because there is no automatic testing of dead bodies for CO. Someone has to think about CO as a cause. So, we have no idea how many people even in the UK die of CO. We know we miss deaths due to CO, because we have found deaths that were not tested initially & nearly missed. Baroness Finlay co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group recommended testing all dead bodies for CO in 2011, but even this modest, much needed measure has not been implemented.
We use the recognised CO deaths to study to try to identify common denominators and suggest preventative measures. Our data should not be used as any quantitative way and we have always made this clear. We were shocked to read that it seems our data has been used by Government in the Consultative Document extending the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm Regulations to justify excluding homes with gas cookers only, because they perceive that our data suggests 9% of deaths are caused by gas cookers. We have expressed our disagreement with excluding cookers. It seems that CO-Gas Safety data has been used because there is little other detailed data collected.
Proof of CO – Gas emergency service doesn’t test gas appliances or air for CO – Catch 22
It is almost impossible for a survivor to prove exposure to CO. Testing the person usually produces a negative which may well be false. Testing of blood or breath is often delayed, so by the time tests are done, any CO will have left the survivor. Testing the emissions or air in the home is much more reliable. However, the gas emergency service does not test either the air or the gas appliances for CO, something we’ve lobbied about almost from our launch. The employees of the gas emergency service do now have Personal Alarm Monitors for CO which protect them for which we are thankful, please see case study of John Courtney in 2010 https://www.co-gassafety.co.uk/case-studies/non-fatal/ However, anyone calling the gas emergency number 0800 111999 is told to turn everything off, open the windows and doors and leave the premises. So, by the time the employee from the gas emergency service arrives, the CO will usually have disappeared from the air.
It is virtually impossible for a consumer or survivor to obtain such an investigation and test and it costs at least £3,000 and often far more. Testing is vital because it also affects awareness and data.
Without proof of CO there is no data and without data the authorities conclude that there is no CO problem.
We have done what we can to draw attention to the plight of survivors who cannot prove exposure to CO, both in the ‘Comic’ strip see pages 12 & 13 of our press pack 2020 at https://www.co-gassafety.co.uk/information/press-pack-2020/ and expressed in a more legalistic way in our article in the New Law Journal January 2020 see https://www.co-gassafety.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/profession_co_hidden-dangers_stephanie-trotter-obe.pdf
The problem can be summed up as a Catch-22 situation namely, to prove CO: you have to prove CO.
This is something we identified very early in the charity’s existence and is why we have lobbied so hard for both awareness and testing of air and the emissions from gas appliances for CO.
Numbers affected by CO and research
Extrapolation from the small studies suggests millions in the UK alone could be affected by levels of CO way above WHO guidelines and even above 50 parts per million (PPM) see https://www.co-gassafety.co.uk/about-co/numbers-affected-by-co/ However, obviously a larger study would be more accurate. Therefore, we were delighted to read in 2015 that the Gas Safety Trust had funded a study by Liverpool University for research into 75,000 homes. However, when we asked the chair of the APPCOG stakeholder group about this research in March 2020, we finally learned in May that this study had not gone ahead, due to cuts in the fire service. We think it was wrong that the funding issue was not announced at the time as other funding could possibly have been obtained. Also at least CO-Gas Safety would have been able to call for this funding. We call for this now.
No proof leads to no data & no data leads to no changes to prevent future CO incidents.
CO, Covid-19 & possibly long Covid
Carbon monoxide poisoning has symptoms that are similar to those of any virus, including Covid-19. This fact spurred us on to make a huge effort to raise awareness of CO in lockdown.
The case that first drew our attention to this problem was that of Ms Katie Reid. She was a Council tenant, with pneumonia and a five year old at home, in Dundee in Scotland in March 2020. Her gas was cut off due to her CO alarm sounding, leaving her with no central heating. She could not find a Registered Gas Engineer to repair her boiler due to the fact that the Registered Gas Engineers (RGEs) were afraid she had Covid-19. Her local paper, the Tele, helped her find a RGE to service her boiler. https://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/fp/mum-recovering-from-pneumonia-claimed-angus-council-initially-refused-to-fix-gas-because-they-believed-she-had-coronavirus/
Sue Westwood, survivor of CO and CO-Gas Safety trustee had Covid-19 and now has long Covid. Could CO help to explain long Covid? Perhaps those already exposed to CO do not recover as well? Could survivors of Covid-19 return from hospital to homes polluted by CO and then suffer from long Covid? Perhaps those weakened by exposure to CO are more likely to die of Covid-19?
APPCOG, the All Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group
CO-Gas Safety sought to again raise the issue of testing the air and gas appliances for CO in March and June at stakeholder groups of APPCOG. We also asked about the research promised in 2015. In March it was more of an issue of pointing out that the algorithm used by the DoH for GPs is unhelpful because there is no easy route for a GP to obtain a test of gas appliances or air in a person’s home for CO and we asked, surely there should be?
In June there was an item for discussion provided by Stephanie Trotter on a proposal for testing for CO. The charity did not think this was taken seriously by this group that mainly consists of industry members. Therefore, we asked to make a presentation to the board of APPCOG itself in September.
In September, despite requests to the contrary, it was insisted that CO-Gas Safety went last by which time not a single MP was present. Stephanie wrote to the CEO of Policy Connect to object to this, but the issue of the lack of testing for CO has still been largely ignored.
Submission to Ofgem re RIO-2 and the need to test gas appliances for CO
We have concentrated our efforts recently on the need to test either of the air after the gas appliances have been relit (where necessary) or the emissions from the gas appliances for CO and ideally both. We prepared a submission to Ofgem sent 07.09.20 (after a concession). With our formal submission we sent many documents & supporting letters asking for Ofgem to increase the funding for the Gas Distribution Networks (GDNs) who run the gas emergency service.
Ofgem has now increased the allowance for vulnerable consumers from £30 million to £60 million, which is a win! However, it seems that it is largely up to the GDNs to decide what to spend this sum on as long as it is spent on ‘vulnerable consumers’, see https://tinyurl.com/y4tb6yf2. We heard Jonathan Brearley, CEO of Ofgem concede orally to us in an APPCOG meeting that everyone was vulnerable to CO and that once exposed to CO everyone is vulnerable.
The Health & Safety Executive – HSE
Rebecca Pickett, Senior Policy Analyst of Ofgem kindly told us that if the HSE asked Ofgem to insist that the gas emergency service test gas appliances for CO, Ofgem would find the funding for them to do this. However, it seems that HSE refuses to so insist. Why? We therefore wrote Mims Davies MP in May asking for a meeting to persuade her as Minister responsible for CO to insist that gas appliances are tested for CO whenever they visit on an emergency and particularly when CO is suspected. We have written again to Mims Davies MP, Minister responsible for HSE in January 2021.
Safety is the remit of the HSE. There is a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between Ofgem and HSE requiring them both to consult each other and our FOI request revealed that neither of them had consulted each other as we think they are required to do for RIO-2.
Millions of funding (£93) is available to the GDNs from Ofgem under an innovation fund but Ofgem is leaving it up to the GDNs to decide what to spend it on. We have tried hard to get in touch with those running these innovation groups with some success, but everything seems very under wraps.
We consider that this issue is one for HSE to take up but so far, their answer has been that there are not sufficient deaths. Yet testing and therefore the data is lacking!
I own the minimum number of shares in Centrica, British Gas personally so I can put questions at a shareholders’ meeting. In summer 2020, I requested that British Gas provide a test of gas appliances for CO. Ideally this should be free but could be charged. I pointed out this could earn British Gas both profit and a good reputation worldwide. I am still in correspondence with Matthew Bateman, CEO of British Gas but sadly he has delegated this, it seems entirely to his Head of PR. I have responded that this issue is one of policy and safety, so surely, he should take this up himself?
In November a Coroner found that Beko should have acted sooner to stop the sale of cookers linked to 18 deaths in the UK and Ireland over a danger from their cookers which meant the grill door could be shut, cutting off air to the flame, thereby producing carbon monoxide. Beko was told about two deaths in November and December 2008, but it was not until February 2009 that Beko started contacting all the owners of potentially dangerous cookers. By the end of February 2009 Beko had traced 43% of those sold and it was now up to 58%. See https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/nov/23/beko-should-have-acted-sooner-over-cooker-danger-coroner-finds
But this leaves 42% of cookers almost certainly unchanged leaving owners at risk of death. CO-Gas Safety wrote to the HSE on the 13th May 2009 asking why no alert had been put out.
Why no massive TV and social media warning?
IGEM – the leading professional body for gas engineers
In mid-December, Sue Westwood and I had a good zoom meeting with Neil Atkinson, the CEO of IGEM. We had approached IGEM as the leading professional body for gas engineers to point out the difficulties encountered by CO survivors, due to lack of proof. We informed Neil that survivors tell us that not being believed is even worse than the injuries they are left with for the rest of their lives. We discussed the fact that the gas emergency service did not test gas appliances for CO and asked for his support to change this. We also discussed the training of Registered Gas Engineers. Stephanie asked Roland Johns to contact Neil about our course on CO for RGEs and Roland kindly did so. We are waiting to hear from Neil but are reasonably hopeful.
We continue to transfer case studies from the press packs to https://www.co-gassafety.co.uk/case-studies/ and continue to add new case studies. If anyone has a story to tell us, please contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or my mobile 07803 088688.
Specific Victim Support
We are still the only body to offer specific victim support about CO. We hope to be able to do more now of supporting claimants by initially paying for investigations. However, there seems to be a huge shortage of gas expert court witnesses. Please contact us if you are one or know of one. Through this support we have recently been contacted by a couple exposed to CO in a BBQ hut – a new danger.
I thank our trustees especially Jim Lambeth, Paul Overton and Sue Westwood. We also thank all who donated. We also thank Lawson Wight of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps and the Guild for the protocol & their incredible support for many years. We also thank Jonathan Kane for his support for almost the lifetime of the charity! We also thank Coroners and their officers, Dr Connolly, Paul Hewson, Dr Craggs, Dr Croxford, Debra Morris of Affinity Law, Emma Jackson-Phillips, Rebecca Scarlett, Jill Wing, Ray Kemp, John O’Leary, Craig Drinkald, Roland Johns, Ben Kuchta & many more.
Stephanie Trotter, OBE, President & Director CO-Gas Safety © Copyright CO-Gas Safety 2021