Several makes of carbon monoxide alarms have been removed from sale on Amazon and eBay following checks on their safety.
Consumer organisation Which? Is calling on the government to be more pro-active in their role on product safety after its investigation exposed the dangerous devices.
Four of the alarms tested and available for sale on these retail websites had failed to detect the presence of the dangerous gas, making them potentially lethal in the event of a carbon monoxide build-up in a home.
Which? is advising anyone who purchased one of the affected devices, all of them claiming to meet British safety standards, to remove and replace them.
It said that one of those devices, the Topolek GEHS007AW CO, had failed to detect CO gas in more than 80 per cent of the tests conducted. This one had been a bestseller on Amazon, retailing at £14.99.
The three other failing alarms, which were all unbranded and made in China, had also sold on Amazon and eBay for under £10.
These devices have now been removed from sale from Amazon and eBay and they have also another 50 similarly looking alarms which are believed to be identical to the three unbranded ones.
Which? has called on the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) to take a “more active role” in market surveillance to identify products on sale that pose a potential safety risk as the consumer group claims its investigation exposed flaws in the UK’s current product safety system.
Theses revelation are of particular concern to landlords and agents who are under a legal obligation to provide CO alarms in their rental properties where certain circumstances apply, i.e., where solid fuel burning devices are present, and in Scotland, also where gas appliances are also present.
Carbon monoxide is a colourless odourless gas which is potentially lethal. Appliances fuelled with natural gas, liquefied petroleum (LP gas), oil, kerosene, coal, or wood may produce CO. Burning charcoal produces CO as also so does running motor vehicles.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide are usually mistaken for other diseases. A mild exposure results in flu like symptoms and an increased exposure can lead to dizziness, headaches and death. It is produced in homes due to lack of ventilation, clogged chimneys or in areas where there are heaters or stoves burning fuel inefficiently, or even cigarette smoking.
Therefore in places where there is a fuel burning source it is important to regulate and measure carbon monoxide levels. This can be done by using a CO detector device. These are now quite inexpensive devices which are readily available on the market and are easy to install and use.
Carbon monoxide alarms are constantly reading the levels of the lethal gas in a room and beep when the levels are exceeded. Some models which are slightly more expensive give a digital display of the level of CO in the air.
Testing CO Alarms
Pressing the ‘Test’ button on the detector only tells you whether the device has adequate electrical power from a mains supply or internal batteries. Batteries may need replacing from time to time, but recognised makes will emit a warning when the batteries are low.
Knowing that the carbon monoxide alarm is working properly is important. It is possible to test a carbon monoxide alarm to make sure it can identify the correct level of carbon monoxide (CO) in the air, measured in parts per million (ppm).
- Make sure the alarm is correctly installed: at eye level, 1 to 3 metres from the appliance (gas or solid fuel) and not above windows or radiators.
- Insert new batteries and test the alarm for proper function by pressing the test button and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Usually they will emit a high-pitched, loud beeping.
- Compared to smoke alarms which are relatively straightforward to test, it is more of an issue to accurately test a CO alarm.
- Testing with a known source of calibrated test gas on installation and annually is recommended. A competent person can quickly and easily carry out a reliable CO alarm test with a product such as a Detectagas kit, basically an aerosol can filled with test gas. Detectagas is non-flammable, non-hazardous and ozone friendly and has won industry awards. It is available online and from most good builders’ merchants.
- The life expectancy of most CO alarms would range from 2 to 7 years, so it is important to test even the best makes regularly as they age.
The Rules for Smoke and CO Alarms in Rental Properties
Here is an outline of the requirements of the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015
On 1 October 2015, the law changed regarding smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. From that date, landlords in England are required to have fitted smoke detectors (alarms) on each storey of a rental property. CO detectors are also required in rooms where solid fuel appliances (e.g. those containing an open fire or log-burning stove) are installed.
Although not a legal requirement in the case of gas appliances, the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has said that it would expect and encourage reputable landlords to ensure that working CO alarms are installed. Landlords with properties in England must now fit these devices and not wait for the start of a new tenancy. Heat detectors designed for kitchens cannot be a substitute for smoke alarms.
Since 1 June 1992 Approved Document B (Fire Safety), which supports the Building Regulations (England and Wales) 2010, has required all new build properties to have hard- wired smoke alarms on at least each storey of the property. However, until now there was no requirement to have smoke alarms in older and non-licensed dwellings.
The New Requirements
At least one smoke alarm must be installed on each storey of a rental property used as living accommodation, and a CO alarm in any room containing solid fuel appliances that is used as living accommodation. After that, the landlord must make sure the alarms are in working order at the start of each new tenancy. Note: in the DCLG’s view, for the purpose of these regulations, a mezzanine floor would not be considered a storey.
In general, smoke alarms should be fixed to the ceiling in a circulation space, i.e. a hall or a landing, and CO alarms should be positioned at head height, either on a wall or shelf, approximately 1‒3m away from a potential source.
The immediate landlord (or someone acting on their behalf) must test the alarms on the first day of a new tenancy, ideally with the tenant/s present. Tenants should be advised to take responsibility for their own safety and test all alarms regularly to make sure they are in working order; testing monthly is generally considered an appropriate frequency.
The first day of the tenancy is the date stipulated in the agreement, even where the tenant decides to actually move into the property on a later date. A new tenancy is one commencing after the 1 October 2015, not a continuation of an existing tenancy before that date.
In cases where tenants refuse access for alarm fitting or testing, the landlord should write to them, with a copy to the local authority, explaining that it is a legal requirement to install the alarms and that it is for their own safety.
The regulations do not stipulate the type of alarms (such as hard wired or battery powered) to be installed. Landlords should make an informed decision and choose the best alarms for their properties and tenants, but it is recommended that 10-year guarantee lithium battery or hard-wired alarms are installed in pre-1 June 1992 properties.
The regulations will apply to any tenancy, lease or licence (not lodgers living with a landlord and family) of residential premises in England, that gives somebody the right to occupy all or part of the premises as their only or main residence, in return for rent. There are some exemptions, such as for long leaseholds and social housing landlords.
Landlords and/or their managing agents should ensure that they have documentary evidence that the alarms are tested and in working order on the first day of a tenancy, for example, by the tenant signing a copy of an inventory. Failure to comply with these regulations would mean the local housing authority can levy a civil penalty charge of up to £5,000 on the landlord, but there is a right of appeal.
Landlords and managing agents are encouraged to ensure tenants’ safety and provide documentary evidence of this by carrying out basic risk assessments covering fire, gas, electrical, Legionella and general safety inside and outside the property between each tenancy.
Regulations vary throughout the UK and there is some overlap. This is a brief summary:
Wales: The new regulations do not apply here, but similar rules are expected. Properties in Wales built post-1992 must be fitted with mains-powered, interlinked smoke detectors/alarms, but landlords are advised to provide at least battery-operated alarms in older properties. Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) are required to have hard-wired alarms fitted.
In England and Wales there is also a duty under the Part J of the 2010 Building Regulations for England and Wales http://goo.gl/bvJCTS to have CO alarms fitted when a solid fuel heating system is installed.
Scotland: The mandatory fitting of CO alarms in private rented property became law on 14 May 2014 under the Housing Scotland Act 2014 http://bit.ly/VPf2dJ Besides existing gas safety regulations, the act prescribes that there must be “satisfactory provision for giving warning if CO is present in a concentration hazardous to health”.
This means that it is now mandatory for private landlords to install CO detectors in every space containing a ‘fixed combustion appliance’ (excluding those used solely for cooking) and where a flue passes through high-risk accommodation, such as a bedroom or main living room.
On 1 December 2015, new regulations came into force regarding the provision of long-life CO alarms in privately rented housing. This addition to the Housing (Scotland) Act is an amendment to the existing Repairing Standard that firmly shifts the duty of care regarding the provision and replacement of CO detectors to landlords. The legislation applies to all landlords in Scotland renting out property with fixed combustion appliances of any kind, with the exception of those used exclusively for cooking.
Fire safety (smoke alarms) revised guidance in Scotland (www.prhpscotland.gov.uk) makes it mandatory that one fire and smoke detector alarm is fitted:
- in the room most frequently used by the occupant(s) for general daytime living purposes
- in every circulation space (halls and landings)
- on each floor of a building
- in every kitchen.
All alarms must be integrated.
Northern Ireland: Technical Document L of the Building Regulations in Northern Ireland (http://bit.ly/1JZwDYF) states: “Where any combustion appliance is installed, reasonable provision must be made to detect and give warning of the presence of CO gas at levels harmful to people.” The authority for this is Technical Document L of the Building Regulations in Northern Ireland.
Landlords of private rental properties (that are not HMOs) are required, within reason, to ensure that the property they let is ‘safe and would not cause injury or death to humans or pets’. Landlords must therefore be able to prove due diligence in a court of law should a fire occur at the property.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) recommend that the standards of fire safety in private rental properties should be at least equivalent to the current fire safety standards expected in a modern domestic property. Therefore, landlords renting a private property should at least provide working smoke alarms (preferably interconnected) on each level of the property and detection in the principal habitable room, considered to be the main living room, and a heat detector and fire blanket in the kitchen area.
Guidance concerning smoke and CO alarms is available from the NIFRS at http://goo.gl/2RLkpn
The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 https://goo.gl/6L3bok