Gas Safety in Student Properties

Not only is carbon monoxide the most toxic substance you’ll come into contact with in your student life but also it’s the hardest to detect. It’s vital therefore that the necessary care is taken to ensure a student property is gas safe.

The Threat of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a domestic menace that is poisoning hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in their homes every year. However, a large proportion of the population are ignorant of this silent, odourless killer.

Students need to be particularly aware of the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning in private accommodation, because the responsibility for the gas safety is with the landlord, and unfortunately landlords all too often fail to take adequate care of their tenants.

Over the last decade several students have died, and thousands more have suffered illness, as a result of poisoning from carbon monoxide fumes. Some of these deaths could have been avoided if the respective landlords had carried out the necessary checks.

Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Poisoner

The source of carbon monoxide is typically gas appliances and central heating systems that have been poorly fitted or haven’t been properly maintained. But even when faulty systems cause CO to be produced, it is very difficult to detect its presence. It is commonly referred as the silent killer because it is the gas you cannot see or smell, and its covert nature helps it claim around 50 lives a year in the UK.

However, deaths are only the extreme cases. What is perhaps more disturbing is that lower levels of carbon monoxide can affect many more people in a less dramatic and recognisable fashion, by poisoning them bit by bit over an extended period. It is believed there could be thousands of people across the UK who, unbeknownst to them, are being slowly poisoned in their homes.

The Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be identified by its effects, but even those are often confused with other less typically damaging illnesses, such as flu and food poisoning. Those exposed to the toxic gas may experience muzziness, headaches, nausea, tiredness, sore throats, abdominal pain or a dry cough. Unfortunately, if the source of the illness is not correctly identified and the CO poisoning is allowed to continue, then the symptoms can eventually escalate into to brain damage, memory loss and personality change.

Higher levels of carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to fast and irregular heart rate, hyperventilation, confusion, drowsiness, and breathing difficulties. Seizures and loss of consciousness are also known to occur.

Carbon monoxide has such a destructive inhalation reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, leaving the body’s organs and cells starved of O2.

What Can You Do?

If a landlord is letting out a property with a gas supply then they are legally required to have an up to date gas safety certificate. This is issued by registered CORGI gas installers following a gas safety inspection and is valid for one year, at which time another survey must be carried out.

Although a responsible landlord should display a copy of the certificate at the appropriate property, many don’t and it is up to the new tenants to find out whether their new home is gas safe. It doesn’t matter whether the accommodation is the responsibility of the university or a private landlord or letting agency, you must insist on seeing a valid gas safety certificate.

A recent survey carried out by British Gas and the National Union of Students (NUS) looking at standards of accommodation and safety for students found that 53% of private owners were breaking the law by failing to provide an up to date gas safety certificate.

Further Gas Safety Measures

For greater reassurance, it is worthwhile opting for a student property featured on the university’s own recommended accommodation list. No property is allowed to register on this without being in possession of a valid gas safety certificate.

Nevertheless, it is advised that students living in the private sector should still monitor the property for levels of carbon monoxide. A variety of detection devices are available on the market, although the mains-wired types are the most recommended.

Student residents should also help maintain gas safety standards by allowing the landlord access to the property to carry out necessary maintenance or safety checks on appliances and flues provided for use. If there is any doubt about the safety of gas equipment then it should be switched off and not touched until checked by a qualified installer.