Many people, when considering the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, make the mistake of thinking of it in terms of leakages involving gas or other forms of fuel. Whilst leaks of this kind can be dangerous and even fatal, however, one facet which they don’t share with carbon monoxide is the odourless nature of the harmful gas itself.
Whilst a leaking gas pipe will at least make itself apparent through the smell of gas, allowing people in the vicinity to open doors and windows, evacuate and contact the relevant emergency services, carbon monoxide doesn’t have a smell, colour or taste and even a small leak occurring over a period of time can have a devastating effect on the health of people breathing it in.
Carbon monoxide is a colourless and odourless gas which is produced by petrol engines or when fuels such as wood, charcoal, gas and coal are burned. Many household heating and cooking appliances, as well as machinery in a factory or workshop, make use of fuels of this kind, including:
Most cases of carbon monoxide poisoning occur when an appliance of the type listed above has been poorly maintained, is damaged or was initially installed incorrectly. There is also a risk posed by the kind of portable devices sometimes used in boats, caravans and mobile homes.
Other problems which might cause carbon monoxide to build up to dangerous levels within an environment include a blocked flue or chimney, the build-up of certain kind of paint fumes and burning fuel in an enclosed place, such as making use of a portable barbecue stove within the confines of a tent. If the exhaust of a car has become blocked or been damaged, then carbon monoxide might leak back into the interior of the car itself.
Although the most extreme cases of carbon monoxide poisoning generally involve people being killed by a dangerous build up, or suffering severe reactions to the presence of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere, there is also a risk that long term low level exposure to the gas could have a damaging effect upon the health of those exposed, particularly people under the age of 14 or older than 65.
The effects of low level carbon monoxide poisoning can seem similar to the symptoms of flu or food poisoning, although without the presence of a high temperature. Common symptoms include:
Though these symptoms may lessen when you move away from the source of the carbon monoxide, the long term effects of low level exposure can be serious, with the effects upon the brain including problems with memory, language, mood and behaviour.
If your body is exposed to higher levels of carbon monoxide then the immediate effects will be much more severe. Carbon monoxide attacks by attaching itself to the haemoglobin in the red blood cells in the body, greatly impairing the ability of the cells to carry oxygen. It is this lack of oxygen, particularly to the heart and brain, which is so dangerous. During exposure to higher levels of carbon monoxide, you may experience the following serious symptoms:
If you’ve made the mistake of lighting a gas heater inside an unventilated garage, or fitting a heating appliance without having it checked by a registered expert, then the responsibility rests squarely on your shoulders if you, or people sharing the space in question, are affected by carbon monoxide problems. In many cases, however, the responsibility for the safety of an environment will rest with a third party.
Of course, companies and workplaces already have a legal obligation to provide safe working environments for their employees, and anybody who suffers injuries as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning at work will be entitled to the same legal rights as anyone else injured at work, including compensation if applicable.
The law has been changed in England to protect tenants as well. If you live in rented accommodation, for example, then the landlord has a legal duty not only to make sure that the accommodation is safe but also to fit a carbon monoxide alarm which will alert you if the highly dangerous gas builds up in the atmosphere. This duty came about as a result of legislation which came into force on 1st October 2015, and also covers the fitting of smoke alarms.
Over and above the specific issue of carbon monoxide alarms, any landlord has a legal duty to ensure that their tenants are safe, and this includes ensuring that any gas equipment is installed by a Gas Safe Register engineer, having a registered engineer carry out a gas safety check on appliances and flues in their property every year and providing tenants with a copy of the gas safety report. For a list of gas engineers who are qualified to fit appliances and carry out checks, see http://www.gassaferegister.co.uk.
If your landlord has failed in their duty of care to you, and this has resulted in you or others in your household suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, then you may well be in a position to make a claim for compensation.
Other scenarios under which negligence may have taken place include a workplace, such as a garage, which is insufficiently well ventilated, or an appliance which has problems which should have been spotted by the supplier or manufacturer.
No matter what the details of the case, the basic principle is simple – if you’ve suffered physical injuries and/or mental distress because another party behaved in a negligent manner, then you deserve to claim the compensation which will allow you to get on with the rest of your life.
If you feel you may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning then the first step to take is to seek urgent medical attention. Not only will this help to prevent further damage to your health, but it will also be the first part of building a case for compensation. This will involve gaining confirmation that you have, indeed, been affected by carbon monoxide poisoning.
The other strand of any successful claim involves demonstrating that someone else was to blame. The more evidence you can gather with regard to the appliance which you feel caused the poisoning, the better, whether it’s in your home, workplace, holiday accommodation or other space. Useful evidence will include photographs of the appliance, particularly if any soot marks are present, records of any repairs carried out and details of the people responsible for servicing the appliance, and when the servicing was carried out.
An expert lawyer will use all of the information you provide to build the strongest possible case, including details of when and for how long you feel you’ve been affected by carbon monoxide, and any medical records relating to this.
Any money awarded will be based on two factors; the severity of your injury and the extent of any financial loss it has caused, both now and in the future.
Under the latest personal injury compensation legislation, you will be entitled to keep at least 75% of any compensation awarded, whilst also being protected from the risk of financial loss if your case proves to be unsuccessful, as most personal injury claims are taken on a no win, no fee basis.
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