Carbon Monoxide poisoning is the most common cause of fatal poisoning in the UK today, where around 50 people die each year through accidental poisoning.
Historically, Carbon Monoxide poisoning was used as a method to commit suicide; often through deliberately inhaling the exhaust fumes of a running car engine. Modern vehicles, with electronically-controlled combustion and converters can still produce fatal levels of Carbon Monoxide if no ventilation is available and the exhaust-pipe is obstructed. Carbon Monoxide poisoning has also been implicated as the cause of apparent haunted houses; symptoms of delirium and hallucinations have led people suffering poisoning to think they have seen or experienced the presence of ghosts.
What causes Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
As mentioned above, Carbon Monoxide is produced through the incomplete or inefficient burning of carbon-based fuels such as bottled gas, coal, coke, oil and wood. This inefficient burning commonly takes place when potential sources are not properly serviced, cleaned or maintained. Often, poor ventilation will play a key part, as leaking Carbon Monoxide will accumulate indoors.
To understand how a Carbon Monoxide leak can affect the body, we must first examine in interaction between oxygen and red blood cells. As many will already know, oxygen from the lungs is transported by red blood cells around the body. Oxygen is bound to these red blood cells by haemoglobin, the substance responsible for their red colour. This oxygenated blood, or oxyhaemoglobin then delivers its payload wherever it is needed.
Carbon Monoxide can also bind to haemoglobin but it does so 240 times more tightly than oxygen. This forms a compound known as carboxyhaemoglobin. So in the presence of Carbon Monoxide and oxygen, Carbon Monoxide will be far more successful in binding with red blood cells; preventing much needed oxygen from circulating around the body, starving body tissues. Carboxyhaemoglobin also causes the blood vessels of the body to leak. This in itself is dangerous, but in the brain this can cause swelling that may lead to unconsciousness and neurological damage. Where a victim falls unconscious, they have no means to remove themselves from the affected room or building which can lead to further damage.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Acute, or short term exposure to Carbon Monoxide can cause light-headedness, confusion, headaches, vertigo, and flu-like effects. Where acute exposure is to higher levels, Carbon Monoxide poisoning can lead to significant toxicity of the central nervous system and heart, and even death. After experiencing acute exposure and contracting some of these symptoms, long-term complications or sequelae, can often occur.
Chronic, or long-term exposure to low levels of Carbon Monoxide can lead to memory loss, confusion and depression. Symptoms (and frequency of occurrence) include:
- Headache, 90%
- Nausea and vomiting, 50%
- Vertigo, 50%
- Altering states of consciousness, 30%
- Weakness, 20%
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Diagnosis
Diagnosing Carbon Monoxide poisoning can be quite difficult as many of the symptoms it causes are similar to those caused by other conditions. Unfortunately, symptoms get progressively worse with exposure and a number of factors will change the speed at which symptoms progress, again making diagnosis difficult. As one symptom presents, others may follow gradually without the patient or doctor being fully aware of them, again obscuring the possibility of a clear diagnosis. Often, Carbon Monoxide poisoning will occur in the home, but it may also occur at work where faulty machinery, furnaces or heating may lead to Carbon Monoxide leaks; working with poorly maintained, fuel using tools and equipment can also be a source. Where it is suspected, it can be confirmed by measuring the levels of Carbon Monoxide in the blood using either a CO-oximeter or a breath CO monitor.
The severity of poisoning depends upon:
- The level of Carbon Monoxide present in the environment
- Duration of exposure
- Age of the individual concerned – elderly, children and the foetus are all at greater risk
- General state of health
- How physically active they are – as effects are increased with higher activity levels
As diagnosing Carbon Monoxide poisoning is difficult, other tell-tale signs may be examined should Carbon Monoxide poisoning be suspected, so when consulting with your GP, they will examine a number of areas.
These can include:
- Discussing medical and work history
- Any recent or gradual symptoms
- Whether symptoms are aggravated by exertion
- Whether more than one family member or colleague at work is affected
- If symptoms appear or get worse when gas appliances are in use
- If symptoms are worse in the winter when gas boilers/heaters are in use
- If symptoms improve when particular individuals are not present, but recur on their return.
- If there are black soot marks on gas fire burners or on walls near cookers, boilers, gas fires
- If a gas flame colour is yellow, rather than the blue colour it should be
As home appliances and construction standards have improved, the incidence of Carbon Monoxide poisoning in the home has become less of a problem. At work however, employees can be exposed to a variety of industrial Carbon Monoxide sources which can have severe effects on their health.
Employers have a duty of care to their staff under the health and safety at work act, to ensure that their staff are protected from the risks of working in their provided workspace. Carbon Monoxide poisoning can only result from poor maintenance and lax inspection standards; or the inadequate provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to negate the risk.
So if you suspect that you may have been affected by Carbon Monoxide poisoning at work, it is likely due to employer negligence. If this can be proven, you are entitled to make a claim for Carbon Monoxide poisoning compensation.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Treatment
The treatment for Carbon Monoxide poisoning consists largely of 100% oxygen therapy, or the use of a hyperbaric chamber which enables plasma to carry more oxygen to deprived areas of the body. Oxygen works as an antidote, increasing the removal of Carbon Monoxide from haemoglobin, whilst providing oxygen to affected tissues.
Where long term complications occur, drug therapy may be required to alleviate the symptoms. These can include pain killers for the treatment of headaches; whilst increased muscle activity and seizures may be managed with Dantrolene or Diazepam.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Compensation Claims
Carbon Monoxide poisoning is unpleasant and the potential for long term, negative effects on health can be frustrating and in some cases, debilitating. High levels of acute exposure can lead to permanent damage to the nervous system and heart, whilst a blackout and prolonged exposure can also cause long lasting neurological damage. Exposure of this magnitude can have a disastrous effect on your well-being and your day-to-day life; so where exposure is linked to negligence at work, you are well within your rights to make a Carbon Monoxide poisoning compensation claim.
Whilst any compensation received will not instantly cure your remaining symptoms, it can go some way to making up for your possible loss of earnings, and it can help towards the costs of continued medical care and treatment. To ensure that you claim is managed professionally, you should speak with an expert industrial illness solicitor. If you instruct us to handle your claim, we will collate all of the required evidence and medical proof to substantiate your claim whilst providing expert support and advice throughout the process.
At Asons Solicitors, we’ve dealt with a variety of Carbon Monoxide poisoning claims and so we understand how difficult it can be for sufferers to take this important and decisive step. The law protects those who come forward to make a claim, so if you fear for your job security, do not be put off from making a claim. If your employer has been negligent in their duty to provide a safe working environment for you, and you have suffered as a result, compensation is the lawful way for them to make amends.
I think I may be affected, what should I do?
If you believe that you might be affected by Carbon Monoxide poisoning, you should contact your GP immediately. After which, you should contact Asons Solicitors to begin building your claim for compensation.
If you have contracted Carbon Monoxide poisoning through work, you should contact your current employer. You should speak to them to ensure that your role has been made safe enough to continue working, whilst ensuring that appropriate safeguards and measures are put into place to protect other staff members and colleagues.
Where else can I find help and advice?
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) provides plenty of helpful information for both employers and victims of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. It provides brochures and printed material for use in the workplace as well as guides and checklists for ensuring employee safety. It also includes directions to other support groups that deal with gas poisoning.
You can also find help and advice from:
We pride ourselves on our provision of first-class legal advice and support. Our team of specialist carbon monoxide poisoning solicitors have a wealth of expertise, and knowledge, that you will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. For free, expert advice on pursuing an carbon monoxide poisoning claim, speak to us today.