Cause For Alarm
The more we hear from the carbon monoxide (CO) alarm manufacturing industry the more there is a real cause for alarm in this country.
In October last year, one of the biggest CO alarm manufacturers was required to recall some of their products from the market as they were found to be faulty. This product had been sold widely in leading supermarkets and DIY retailers.
The issues they are experiencing are nothing new for the industry as a supplier who had previously supplied Hackney Homes with CO alarms which a report in the Journal of Public Health and Environment found that as many as 26.9 % of the 23,000 CO alarms installed were not working two years later. The alarms had a seven year warrantee.
In another development, another leading CO alarm provider is offering to give its customers a 10year warrantee on the CO alarms it provides. Again on the face of it it seems a sensible offer that gives users a sense of security. The reality however is that the CO sensor within the alarm only has a 2year warrantee. This would seem to be an accident waiting to happen.
There was some hope that the industry would clean up its act as new entrants enter the market, with some also claiming to not only bring innovation and style to the sector but sensor inclusive testing. On the surface that sounds like great news, however on closer examination the sensor being used is a standard Figaro TGS 5342 sensor.
This sensor will not self test its ability to sense gas. It can be electronically tested to check that the circuit is working but will still be subject to the usual issues which affect sensors which will not be picked up by a test button or electronic check.
The Standard in the USA (UL2034) is that all CO alarms must be tested on installation with a known source of calibrated test gas and at least annually thereafter and that changes in the electronic makeup or algorithms to provide a test is not acceptable. The unit will therefore be subject to the UL 2034 requirements and is no different to standard CO alarms on the market as far as sensor technology is concerned.
Unlike smoke alarms, the only real way to test whether the CO alarm is working is to undertake a sensor inclusive test involving Carbon Monoxide rather than just pressing the test button which simply tests the circuit.
These findings are alarming for UK consumers and businesses who rely on these alarms to protect family, friends and employees. However, this is nothing new for the CO alarm manufacturers. Last year we heard from Trading Standards who reported that as many as 80% of alarms they tested did not pass the British Standards test.
This is no small issue as it is estimated that there are currently 30m CO alarms in the UK, with potentially 80% not working – illustrating the significant size of the issue. Some CO alarm manufacturers are now offering a 10 year+ warrantee which will only compound the issue as it is very unlikely the sensors will last that long.
To help manage this issue and highlight alarms that have been tested and passed or to notify residents in an alarm has failed, Gas Safe Europe has launched Triplicate Test Record Pads to help landlords evidence to local authority officials that their CO and smoke alarms have been tested and are in working order.
This helps with new legislation that now requires private landlords to have working and regularly tested smoke and CO alarms in all rented properties. By using such products landlords will now be able to evidence that a building’s smoke and CO alarms have been tested and are compliant with the new Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Regulations 2015.
For alarms that fail the test, GasSafe Europe has also produced tamper- proof stickers that notify residents if an alarm is found to be faulty to help ensure that they are not used and replaced. By labelling the faulty alarms in this way, we hope they will be quickly replaced and, if still under warrantee, the providers of the faulty alarms will be held accountable.
It’s clear from the mounting evidence that the CO alarm manufacturing industry is facing a number of challenges that need to be overcome in order to provide consumers with the peace of mind that having an effective alarm can bring. Until this is industry is better regulated and checked, we believe there’s a real cause for alarm.