It’s that time of year again. A new term and a fresh start. Students going off to college or university for the first time. Their parents experiencing a mix of feelings – excited to be letting their offspring spread their wings, but worried as to how their adolescent will cope. How will they manage without dad’s taxi service? How will they cope with a laundrette? I know of one mum who realised she had just two weeks in which to teach her son to cook! With so much to think about, it’s no surprise that they haven’t considered the safety of the accommodation.
Of course, most students will go off to college and come home safely at Christmas. But the two Northern Ireland students who died this summer because of leaking carbon monoxide (CO) from an LPG appliance won’t be going off to college at all. Even leaks of CO at a level that doesn’t kill can cause brain damage and paralysis if breathed in over a long period.
Landlords of rented property are responsible for having a gas safety check once a year, to check that pipes, flues and appliances are all safe. The check must be carried out by a registered Gas Safe engineer (Gas Safe is the organisation that replaced Corgi).
If you are a parent, make sure that the landlord has carried out these checks. The landlord should provide a copy of their gas safety record, showing checks have been made within the previous twelve months.
Check that the room the student will be sleeping in does not contain a gas fire, gas space heater or a gas water heater (including a gas boiler). If it does, the landlord has to follow additional requirements set out on the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/gas/landlords/safetycheckswhat.htm#bedroom
Carbon monoxide leaks are not limited to poorly installed or badly maintained gas appliances – you can also suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning if oil or wood is not burning correctly in an appliance, or from an open fire if the chimney has not been properly maintained.
Although you can’t see or smell CO, make sure your son or daughter is aware of the symptoms of CO poisoning – nausea, headaches, dizziness, breathlessness, collapse, and ultimately, loss of consciousness. They need to recognise when these are not just signs of a hangover. Plug a couple of telephone numbers into their mobile phones before they go. If there is an emergency they should ring the gas emergency helpline on 0800 111 999; if they suspect there is a problem and the landlord won’t check it out, they can report the landlord to the Health and Safety Executive on 0845 345 0055.
For extra peace of mind, as well as packing your student off with a new saucepan, can opener and corkscrew, send them with something really useful – an audible carbon monoxide alarm.
Rebecca Russell - Stepping Stones for Business