If you are certain, or you have good reason to suspect that, you have a gas leak you should immediately turn off the gas at the domestic mains supply. Householders might wish to make themselves aware of where the property’s mains supply meter and shut-off valve are located to allow them to do so should the need arise.
After turning off the mains gas supply, the windows and doors of the property should be opened to vent the accumulated gas. During this period, it is crucial to avoid using equipment that might produce an ignition spark. You should then contact your energy provider for further advice. They are obliged to attend free of charge.
If you do not know how to turn off the supply, and gas is leaking from a fractured pipe or a damaged appliance which cannot be isolated, you should remove yourself and others from the property and phone 0800 111 999. This is a 24 hr emergency number. Do not operate a mobile or conventional phone from inside your property. Any electrical spark or other forms of ignition may cause an explosion.
Gas, used under the correct procedures and with modern well-maintained appliances is a very safe fuel.
However, natural gas itself and other gases formed because of combustion, incomplete combustion and inadequate ventilation are dangerous and can kill or seriously injure people who are exposed to them.
Natural gas can cause injury and death on its own simply by displacing the air in the property, or by ignition and explosion of concentrations of the gas in the air. A concentration of only five percent is sufficient.
Although natural gas itself is odourless, a distinctive and instantly recognisable sulphurous odour, called mercaptan, is added to the gas to aid its detection and indicate its presence.
Should you ever need to check gas pipe joints or connections for evidence of leaking gas, a mixture of water and detergent sprayed onto the area would indicate leakage by forming bubbles and foam.
A slow and almost unnoticeable natural gas leak can cause illness over time and any unexplained symptoms that only occur whilst residing in the property should be investigated.
Natural gas leakage is not the only gas leakage to be aware of. Carbon monoxide, as a by-product of the combustion process is normally safely vented through a flue into the outside atmosphere. If the flue becomes blocked, this gas can escape back into the property.
The problem with carbon monoxide is that it is odourless. Because of this, the occupants are often not aware of its presence. Although symptoms of nausea, headaches and dizziness are classic, these symptoms can easily be ignored or passed-off as general illness. Carbon monoxide in high concentrations can be lethal in seconds when inhaled and occupants can succumb before they are able to escape from the property. Slow, prolonged exposure can cause irreversible brain damage.
If there is any suggestion of carbon monoxide poisoning, affected occupants should seek urgent medical attention. A blood test will confirm exposure.
Potential problems with gas can be eliminated by professional installation combined with regular service and maintenance procedures. These should be carried out by Gas Safe Registered Engineers. Always ask to see their I.D. card.
If you are a tenant of the property, it is the landlord’s legal responsibility to ensure that gas appliances are maintained appropriately.
Vigilance by the occupier is also a good method of avoiding potential problems. The observation of gas flames on cookers and boilers burning with yellow or orange flames, pilot lights frequently blowing out, brown scorch marks on appliances and unusual amounts of condensation on windows are a good sign that something may not be right and that further investigation is required. Appliances should also be checked for any signs of wear and tear that could impede their efficient operation.
These indicators should not be ignored or passed-off as being due to the age of the appliances. All flames on appliances should be crisp and blue. This is a sign that the required amount of oxygen is available and that combustion is complete.
The fitting of a carbon monoxide alarm is essential. This should carry a recognised Kite Mark or similar EU standard and be marked EN50291.
If the detector is battery operated, its operation should be checked regularly. Some detectors warn by a visual colour change, but it should be noted that most carbon monoxide fatalities occur during sleep. An audio warning is far superior.
It is worth remembering that carbon monoxide is not only a by-product of natural gas combustion. Any combustion of fossil and solid fuel produces poisonous gas by products, including carbon monoxide.
The proper and adequate ventilation of the by-products of combustion through dedicated and regularly serviced flues and vents can prevent most problems occurring.
The use of any energy source incorporates a risk of injury to the user. Being aware of the risks and the measures that can be taken to minimise that risk are important factors in maintaining the safe operation of appliances.