‘Unashamedly radical step-change’ needed to tackle carbon monoxide

co groupA new report launching in Parliament warns that those involved in promoting carbon monoxide (CO) safety must change its approach if the UK is to see a meaningful reduction in the number of CO related injuries and fatalities.

The report, by the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group, calls on government, industry and all those involved in CO safety campaigning to utilise the behavioural sciences to improve poisoning prevention efforts.

The 92-page report, entitled ‘Carbon Monoxide: From Awareness to Action’, warns that approaches towards promoting CO safety that rely too heavily on general public awareness-raising may on their own prove ‘insufficient’ to ensure individuals and families are adequately protected from the dangers posed by the colourless, odourless gas.

While recognising awareness-raising as a vital first step in the protection process, the report calls on all stakeholders involved – including government and energy, fuel and leisure industries – to go further and adopt key behavioural science techniques that have proven effective in other areas of public policy, not least in reducing domestic energy use or improving public health.

The report argues that by better understanding how people interact with the variety of environments in which CO poisonings occur, the different fuel-burning appliances and gas detection systems present, and the manner in which people receive and interpret messages containing important safety warnings, government and industry can better influence behaviour and radically improve the efficacy of CO safety initiatives.

Focusing primarily on three key areas – ‘Domestic Appliances and Environments’, ‘Detection and Technology’ and ‘Campsite and Boating Environments’ – the report makes more than 20 recommendations, including:

1. The UK government should introduce a boiler replacement scheme with a view to Green Deal energy efficiency measures, tied in the first instance to the energy supplier, Priority Services Register, to target the most dangerous appliances in the most vulnerable situations.

2. An ‘Innovation Standard’ for CO alarms should be created, allowing flexibility within existing rules without compromising safety, to encourage the design of novel CO detection applications.

3. All recreation parks should offer suitable CO alarms to purchase, or loan for the duration of stay. These could include those developed through a new, ‘Innovation Standard’ to ensure optimal performance in these environments.

The report follows a nine-month inquiry chaired by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff and Dr Rachel McCloy, director of the Centre for Applied Behavioural Science at the University of Reading. The inquiry found that alongside awareness-raising, data, context and messengers are all vitally important factors in determining the effectiveness of CO safety efforts, influencing heavily the extent to which safety messages reach (and are understood in) each of the myriad situations in which CO poisonings occur.

An adequately-resourced data strategy will be vital to inform successful campaigns and other activities to promote and improve safety. These and other initiatives, the report argues, will require greater coordination of efforts among multiple actors as well as departmental ownership to prevent poisoning incidents. This includes a stronger role for the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the fire and rescue services.

Inquiry co-chair, Baroness Finlay

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