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Parliamentary report urges ‘behaviour change’ approach to tackling carbon monoxide poisoning
Published:  19 January, 2015

Those involved in promoting carbon monoxide (CO) safety must change their approach in order to have an impact, according to a new report launched in parliament today (19 January).

The report, put together by the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG), warns that raising general public awareness may not be enough to adequately protect individuals and their families. Entitled ‘Carbon Monoxide: From Awareness to Action’, the report calls on government, industry and all those involved in CO safety campaigning to utilise the behavioural sciences to improve poisoning prevention efforts.

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 carbon monoxide safety initiatives.

It focuses primarily on three key areas – 'Domestic Appliances and Environments', 'Detection and Technology' and 'Campsite and Boating Environments' – and makes several recommendations for actions that could be taken.

Some key suggestions include:

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 builds upon a previous inquiry by the APPCOG – 2011's ‘Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning’.

Inquiry co-chair Baroness Finlay of Llandaff said: "What this report is calling for is an unashamedly radical step-change in how we approach carbon monoxide safety in the UK. Raising public awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning is an important first step, but we need a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of the CO poisoning environment if we are to successfully eradicate all future occurrences. Behavioural science offers us that deeper understanding and will enable us to move from awareness to action."

Fellow inquiry co-chair Dr Rachel McCloy, director of the Centre for Applied Behavioural Science at the University of Reading, added: "Academia can play an important part in improving CO safety in the future, and behavioural science has been increasingly used across policy-making and campaigning in recent years. By applying behavioural insights, this inquiry encourages a range of new trials, studies and approaches, and with better coordination of research, data, and campaigning, interventions and approaches to saving lives and preventing injuries can be greatly improved."