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60 Seconds That Could Save a Student’s Life

It’s that time of year following all the studying our children have excelled over many years, to be rewarded with a university place in order to improve their lives. Many will be excited by this new adventure in life and for many parents, the reality that their child will now fly the nest of a loving home on that long road to adulthood.

As a parent myself, I am sure that many will be worrying about if our children are taking good care of themselves; eating, sleeping properly and are able to cope in general. One area that many forget is the accommodation they will be living in. Many will stay on campus but for some, the option of sharing a private flat/house is another big attraction on this adventure. Below I have outlined some simple facts if your loved one intends to live independently from campus by renting a property.

By profession, I am a gas engineer who has studied carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning over the last five years. Sadly, to date, I have not seen any evidence of a decrease in injuries or fatalities within the UK… on the contrary, between the 8th and the 22nd of August 2013, there were three CO incidents (media reports) that I am aware of whereby 14 persons were hospitalised and 2 fatalities occurred (a 20-year-old and a 25-year-old, both females). There is no accurate data in the UK on CO poisoning incidents currently.

The risk to students begins around this time for several reasons but the two main ones are:-

  1. Because the premises they move into may have not been used during the summer months while universities are closed. The flat/houses they used may have been redecorated or builders may have been working on the premises during this time… It can lead to gas appliances, chimneys, flues, alarms becoming blocked or damaged. In my experience university landlords do not always use qualified, experienced tradesmen.

  2. This is also the time of the year when it starts to get colder and the appliances in the premises the students are using may not have been operated since late spring. Also some of the students will be visiting from overseas and will not be used to the cold weather of a British autumn/winter.

If you of your children are looking to rent a flat or house privately whilst at university, then there are laws in place that every landlord with natural gas or LPG installations must comply with under the Gas Safety (Installation & Use) Regulations 1998 (GSIUR). Regulation 36 (Landlords duties) places a duty of care on all landlords to annually carry out a safety inspection, form CP12, (this is not a service of appliances) by a competent person(s), gas safe registered engineers to confirm the installation and appliances owned by the landlord are safe for use by their tenants for the next 12 months. This check also applies before any new tenants take up occupancy of any rented property that has natural gas or LPG installations. This is not a legal requirement for other fuels (ie oil, coal, wood, solid fuels etc).

The Landlords Gas Safety Check is similar to the MOT for vehicles, an inspection to confirm if appliances and the installation is in a safe condition for future use by the occupants. It is not a service whereby the engineer will strip down the appliance, check/replace seals, the integrity of the burners, gas rate, burner pressures, fans, flues/chimneys have been swept etc – sounds complicated but really it isn’t.

When we take our cars to the garage for an annual service, we expect the oil, filters, spark plugs, anti-freeze, brake fluids etc to be changed as well as improved efficiency… more miles per gallon/litre. The same principle applies to gaseous domestic appliances and installations.

Ask the landlord or managing agent “When was the last time the appliances was serviced and who carried out the works?”. Check to see if the person(s) are qualified by visiting the websites, Natural Gas & LPG, Gas Safe Register or the equivalent fuel supplier (ie oil is OFTEC).

On the certificate it should state:- ‘Was appliance serviced, yes/no’. Check this and the dates on the certificate. Carbon monoxide poisoning is avoidable and it’s prevention is paramount. Carbon monoxide Alarms have saved lives but remember, they are not a substitute for the servicing of appliances pursuant to the manufacturer’s instructions. I have yet to see evidence when testing CO alarms by pressing the test button, it tests the critical component of the alarm, the sensors. Pressing the test button on CO alarms only tests the circuitry and battery. Also, if anyone suspects carbon monoxide, they should call 999 and ask for Fire & Rescue who will speedily attend to your assistance and are equipped with breathing apparatus, unlike the Gas Emergency Service.

So, to summarise, before signing any tenancy rental agreements ask:

  1. What is the installation? Gas, oil, solid fuel etc?

  2. Ask to see the Landlords gas safety certificate (by law, a copy must be given to the tenants and retained for up to two years by the landlord, gas engineer and tenant).

  3. Have the appliances recently been fully serviced and chimneys/flues swept?

  4. When was the last time the appliances were fully serviced?

  5. If a carbon monoxide detector is installed… How and when it was last tested and how old is the alarm?

Some companies offer an independent landlords gas safety check CP12 inspection of the certificate from £7.50 on your behalf.

Please watch 60 Seconds that could save a student’s life

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