Chilton pensioner killed by Carbon Monoxide emitted by coal boiler

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Published: 20th November 2016
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The tragic death of a Chilton pensioner has underlined the importance of annual gas boiler services.

The Oxford Times reports that widowed housewife Elizabeth Watkins, 86, died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Her body was found in her Severn Road house on November 6th, when a neighbour checked in on her.

In an inquest at Oxford Coroner's Court on Thursday May 1st, coroner Darren Salter gave a verdict of accidental death, and warned of the importance of boiler servicing.

The inquest was told by Howard Reed, a Gas Safe-registered engineer and Gas Safety Consultancy incident investigator who looked at Mrs Watkins' coal boiler after her death, that the flue was blocked with as much as nine years' ash deposits, which prevented carbon monoxide from leaving through the chimney and caused it to eventually fill the victim's house.

He said that Mrs Watkins likely cleared the chimney and the fire bed, but had failed to check the "vitally-important" flue. He noted that the coal boiler had been examined a number of times, describing the fact that the flue wasn't identified as dangerous or that the hazard it posed wasn't acted on as "surprising".

F Church Service Manager Peter Johnson, who was part of the team that inspected Mrs Watkins' boiler in June 2012, said to the newspaper that they tried to help out the victim but "she liked to do everything herself". As a result, the engineers could only offer advice, he noted.
Engineers would legally be allowed to shut off a gas-burning boiler, but have no ability to shut off sold-fuel burning appliances.

Mrs Watkins' daughter Margaret Robinson, who attended the inquest, said that more people should be aware of the dangers posed by solid fuel boilers. She said she did not realise how dangerous her mother's boiler was, but that she had suggested to her mother that she should replace her boiler with an oil or gas appliance.

She told the inquest that her mother was independent and had cleaned the boiler by herself. The inquest heard that she had refused to pay for a boiler service, despite that this would have cleared away any ash that was blocking the flue.

The tragedy of Mrs Watkins' death should warn other people to ensure that their central heating systems are safe and to arrange regular services. As well as boiler flues, vents and chimneys should also be regularly checked and cleaned if they have any obstructions.

Boiler services

It is recommended that all fuel-burning boilers are serviced at least once every 12 months. Gas boilers should be serviced by a Gas Safe-registered engineer.

Coal-burning boilers are not just more dangerous than other boilers, but may actually be more inefficient as well. There are a range of government grants and other funding options available that enable people to afford gas boilers and to improve the energy efficiency of their home in a range of different ways. These include the Green Deal, the Renewable Heat Incentive and the Energy Company Obligation.

As well as annual boiler services, another key feature that can protect people from deadly carbon monoxide is the carbon monoxide alarm, which sounds whenever the fatal gas is present.

Carbon monoxide takes the life of around 50 British people every year, and sends around 2,000 to hospital. The public is aware of the importance of smoke detectors, but awareness of carbon monoxide safety is much lower, and very few households contain carbon monoxide detectors. Many local authorities and even the fire service offer free carbon monoxide detectors to the public.

If you are worried about the dangers of carbon monoxide, then speak to your local authority or the fire service, or contact a Gas Safe-registered engineer, and receive advice and information that could one day save your life.

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