Boilers and carbon monoxide poisoning – safety tips

Boilers can produce carbon monoxide (CO) if they are not properly installed, maintained, or vented. Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas that is toxic and can be deadly if inhaled in high concentrations. CO is produced when fuels such as gas, oil, or coal are burned incompletely, due to insufficient oxygen supply or incomplete combustion.

Boilers and Carbon Monoxide

Boilers can produce CO if the burners are not adjusted properly or if the heat exchanger is cracked/ damaged. This can allow combustion gases to escape into the living space. This is why it is important to have your boiler inspected and maintained by a qualified professional on a regular basis. Additionally, it is important to have carbon monoxide detectors installed in your home and workplace to alert you if there are dangerous levels of CO present.

In Australian household environments, the leading cause of carbon monoxide poisoning is old, faulty gas heaters. Most Australian households do not use indoor boilers for room heating, instead opting for ducted heating or gas heating systems for climate control. However, boilers are common for hot water systems; but are usually placed outdoors to improve ventilation. Additionally, many workplaces use industrial-grade steam boilers due to their large rapid heating capacity. These require regular maintenance by a boiler installation professional. 

Carbon Monoxide in the workplace

SafeWork NSW notes the most risk industries for workplace carbon monoxide poisoning at work are ones that involve the ‘burning of compounds containing carbon’ whilst working in an ‘enclosed or restricted space.’ These industries include: ‘cooks, blast furnace and boiler room workers, diesel engine operators, garage mechanics, brewery workers, pulp and paper workers, firefighters, glass manufacturers and coal miners.” Workers in these industries should remain alert and ensure all work safe practices are being followed to prevent hazards.

Why is carbon monoxide dangerous?

The colourless and odourless characteristics of carbon monoxide make it difficult to detect without special monitoring equipment, increasing the danger profile of the gas. Often people don’t realise that they are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning until the onset of symptoms has occurred.

Carbon monoxide binds to haemoglobin in the bloodstream, reducing the amount of oxygen that can be transported to the body’s tissues. Even low levels of CO can cause symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, and weakness. In higher concentrations, CO can cause unconsciousness, brain damage, and even death.

CO is a serious health hazard, and it is important to take steps to prevent exposure. This includes properly maintaining fuel-burning appliances, ensuring proper ventilation in enclosed spaces, and installing carbon monoxide detectors in your home or workplace.

How to protect against carbon monoxide

To protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning, it is important to take the following steps:

  • Have your boiler inspected and maintained regularly by a qualified professional. This includes checking the ventilation system, heat exchanger, and burner to ensure they are working properly.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home and workplace. This will alert you if there are dangerous levels of CO present.
  • Ensure proper ventilation in the boiler room if it is located indoors. Keep vents clear of debris and maintain strong ventilation.
  • Never use a gas stove, oven, or grill to heat your home, and never use a portable generator inside your home or garage.
  • If you suspect that you or someone else may be experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning; leave the property, take steps to ventilate the area by opening doors and windows if possible, and seek medical attention immediately. Call emergency services (000) in Australia.

Other sources of Carbon Monoxide within the home

Carbon monoxide poisoning most commonly occurs from faulty and leaky gas appliances, heaters, power generators and barbecues. In Australia, LPG appliances and heaters add a pungent chemical called Ethyl Mercaptan to ensure users can distinctly smell leaking gas. This is because LPG is naturally odourless. However, CO does not include this chemical addition. Carbon monoxide leaks can be impossible to detect within a home without a detection system or the onset of symptoms.

Maintenance, installation, and repair of boilers:

To protect your household and workplace from carbon monoxide poisoning, it is essential to have any boilers installed and maintained by a qualified industry professional. At Tomlinson Energy, we offer 24/7 boiler and gas burner maintenance and repair services. Maintain a safe work and living environment, access to heat and efficient workplace operation.

When you need boiler expertise, call us at your state-specific telephone number or fill out our online contact form and we will get back to you.

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