Following the death of her daughter Katie from carbon monoxide poisoning, Avril Samuel co-founded the Katie Haines Memorial Trust. It helps raise awareness about the dangers of the deadly gas and to prevent unnecessary loss of life especially through carbon monoxide alarms.
Thursday 18 February 2010 had been a busy day at work because my husband Gordon and I were driving later that evening to our cottage in Wiltshire, en route to Cornwall for a few days.
However, while we were on the M4, we received a call that changed our lives – a parent’s worst nightmare. Our eldest daughter Katie, 31, married in a fairy-tale wedding just two months prior, had been involved in an accident and we had to get to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading immediately.
While her husband Richard was on his way home from work, Katie had taken a bath, but on standing up had been poisoned by a lethal dose of carbon monoxide [CO] from a faulty boiler, causing her to fall back into the bath, hitting her head on the side. Sadly, it was too late by the time Richard returned – Katie had drowned, with 37% CO in her blood [normal levels are less than 2.3%]. Richard, who fortunately survived, incurred 20% while trying to resuscitate her.
Our home boiler was regularly serviced and when the registered engineer recommended we install a CO alarm, we did so without really thinking about it. I think I am reasonably intelligent, but I was still unaware of the dangers of carbon monoxide and never checked to see whether our children had alarms in their homes. I thought CO poisoning was something that happened elsewhere.
Ironically, Katie and Richard had bought a smoke alarm that came with a CO alarm, and although they had installed the smoke alarm, they hadn’t got round to putting up the CO alarm.
Following Katie’s death, we set up the Katie Haines Memorial Trust [KHMT] with Richard to raise awareness of the dangers of CO. Sadly, there are still up to 50 deaths per year and over 200 people attending hospital with suspected CO poisoning, according to NHS figures. The symptoms of this are flu-like and people can suffer low doses of the poison for years without it being detected.
We’ve since given away thousands of carbon monoxide alarms to vulnerable people, spoken at freshers’ fayres and industry conferences and, something of which we’re most proud, made three carbon monoxide awareness films.
We were particularly concerned that there were no prime-time TV advertisements, such as those we’ve seen for drink-driving, strokes and heart attacks, and so decided to make our own YouTube films, which have now been viewed by thousands of people.
We introduced our latest film, Cause for Alarm, at the launch of the sixth annual Gas Safety Week in September.
It shows that two simple steps can protect you against this ‘silent killer’. Firstly, to have your carbon-burning appliances regularly checked by a registered professional and, secondly, to install one or more audible CO alarms in your home.
We also commissioned a YouGov survey, which found that of the 2,133 adults polled, only 40% knew that the only safe colour for a flame on a gas appliance is blue. KHMT has warned people that if flames have a slight yellow or orange tint they could be emitting CO.
Advice on carbon monoxide alarms fpr staying safe
I’m obviously very concerned that Which? found 10 dangerous CO alarms in its recent tests of them. All of these alarms claimed to have passed the relevant EU safety standard, EN 50291.
My advice would be to always purchase audible CO alarms from a reputable source and to make sure that they carry the BSI Kitemark safety certification BS 50291. Remember to test your alarm weekly and to make a note of the expiry dates — most alarms last for seven to ten years.
Never rely on the patches that change colour when they detect CO, either. I can’t actually believe these are still sold – what on earth happens when you’re asleep and unable to check for a colour change? A noisy alarm is much more effective at alerting you to a CO leak.
I’d also advise landlords to make sure tenants have sealed-unit alarms, thus ensuring that batteries aren’t taken out to replace in a remote control.
But as much as you can make your home safe with an audible alarm, what happens when you sleep away from it? That’s why our trust advocates taking an alarm with you when you go away, whether you’re staying in the UK or abroad. We’ve noticed that whenever we’ve stayed in B&Bs, they don’t seem to have them, so we talk to the owners and often by the morning they’ve ordered some on the internet.
Our trust has received many emails from people thanking us for raising awareness of CO because they had been saved by alarms they’d bought after hearing about Katie’s tragic story.
Katie’s future has been taken away, but it’s comforting to know that she has saved other people’s lives.
This is a guest contribution by Avril Samuel, co-founder of the Katie Haines Memorial Trust. All views expressed here are Avril’s own, not necessarily those shared by Which?.
Do you think more can be done to improve our safety when it comes to carbon monoxide? Do you have carbon monoxide alarms and regularly check that they work, or have you ever come across a dangerous one?