BBC Four’s 'Hidden Killers' series has covered the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) in an episode looking at the Post-War home.
The programme looked at the 1950s, during which the British home changed significantly, with the advent of new technologies and more cash available to consumers. It was also a period which included the introduction of the Clean Air Act, and the subsequent shift away from coal, and the introduction of gas appliances.
With more people wanting convenient hot baths, self-contained gas water heaters entered bathrooms. Given that bathrooms are often small and sealed spaces, to prevent the cold from getting in, burning of the gas was often not efficient due to a lack of oxygen in the air, leading to the generation of carbon monoxide. An expert featured on the programme pointed out that people often thought they were relaxing because of having a hot bath, but were actually being poisoned by CO.
The presenter was then shown how CO builds up and can be detected by modern CO alarms when gas is burned in an enclosed space. It was also noted that the steam from the bath can interfere with the ability of the flame in the heater to burn correctly, and in a sealed room once the oxygen us used up, it is not replaced.
Newspaper reports from the decade recalled a Borough Coroner being told that “there is no official supervision over installation of gas [water heaters]”. Today, thankfully, gas appliances must only be installed and maintained by competent and registered gas engineers, whom have been certified by the Gas Safe Register in accordance with The Gas Safe (Installation and Use) Regulations.
The programme also highlighted the fact that carbon monoxide can’t be seen, smelt or otherwise detected by humans, earning it the label of ‘hidden killer’ – the title of the series.
For more information on the Gas Safe Register, visit https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/.
You can watch the episode here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07chyly/.