THE MEMORY of a woman who died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a Cork hotel in 2011 was evoked yesterday at a gas safety launch in the Oireachtas yesterday.
It was announced a study should be urgently carried out to discover exactly how many illegally-installed boilers are currently being used.
The joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communication is also recommending a study be made into the viability of carbon monoxide alarms being installed in all premises, whether private or public. And they want to see the regulatory structure that surrounds domestic fuel installations extended to the commercial sector. In making their recommendations, they frequently referenced Miriam Reidy, whose sister Siobhan Barrett has launched a campaign to have carbon monoxide (CO) alarms installed in hotels and other public places.
The report (and see Oireachtas video link below. The meeting starts after about 8 minutes) states lives are being put at risk all over the country by gas boilers being installed without the necessary safety certification.
Committee Chair, John O’Mahony TD, said: ‘The Report was informed by a hearing which took place in February of this year on the risk to public health and safety posed by uncertified gas boiler installations.
‘The Committee heard that illegal contractors are certainly operating in Ireland, but there was no consensus amongst the stakeholders as to the extent of this problem.
‘In compiling this Report, the Committee was at all times cognisant of the tragic death of Ms Reidy in Kinsale a number of years ago, which resulted from carbon monoxide poisoning following a gas leak.
‘Preventing more fatalities is the Committee’s priority in producing this Report.
‘We are greatly concerned by assertions that many installers are operating outside of the law, thus placing lives at risk, as well as undermining those installers who adhere to the law.’
At the moment, there is only a legal requirement that new build private dwellings should have a (carbon monoxide (CO) alarm, but not in commercial premises like hotels. For years now, the Association Of Plumbing and Heating Contractors Ireland has been lobbying hard for tighter control on the installation industry,
Since then, a variety of figures have been publicised as to the estimated amount of cheap and potentially lethal boilers are in circulation.
The figures range from around 60,000 to over 100,000, as presented to the Oireachtas earlier this year.
While most of these are in private dwellings – which carry the greatest risk from CO poisoning – as many as 8,000 domestic appliances may have also been installed illegally in commercial premises.
There has been behind-the-scenes conflict between the Commission for Energy Regulation and the APHCI over just what is the most accurate figure.
Late last year, it emerged the CER, which is the prosecuting authority for illegal gas works, was unable to verify how many people have potentially lethal boilers installed.
This is because the body does not know how many boilers are sold in Ireland each year.
And the CER, which even asked the Central Statistics Office to help determine boiler sales figures, admitted it may not even be possible to get a number.
This is more than two years after the APHCI told the CER that the annual number of illegally installed boilers is ‘at least’ 10,000.
As a result, thousands of lives are at risk as a result of the illegally installed boilers put into homes around the country ‘on the cheap’. And given up to 8,000 illegally-installed boilers are in commercial premises, Mrs Barrett’s campaign is all the more timely. Although domestic CO alarms cost as little as €16, the costs for commercial premises could be many more times that.
Options include fire and CO alarms housed in one single unit and wired to a central monitoring station in a commercial business.
Although a stand alone monitor can cost around €50, the cost of wiring it to a central monitoring unit can – according to industry sources – ‘thousands’ and that depends on the size and type of the commercial premises.
Another option, which some hotels have already adopted, is for a CO alarm directly attached to the commercial boiler.
If the alarm detects CO, it doesn’t just alert the commercial premises owners, it also automatically shuts down the boiler.
However, there are those who believe one alarm attached to a boiler might not be enough, especially if that alarm malfunctions.
These would be those who favour even a simple domestic CO alarm being placed in hotel rooms, which is a comparatively cheaper option.
Mrs Barrett said last night: ‘If a small, domestic alarm had been in my sister Miriam’s hotel room, I am convinced she would still be alive today.
‘I appreciate there are many sides to the issue and that not all the experts would think a small domestic alarm is the right way to deal with the CO problem. but I personally think it is a no-brainer.
‘At the very least, a small, battery-operated CO alarm that costs as little as €16 would be an extra layer of added security against this lethal gas.’
She added: ‘I am so glad that the joint committee is tackling this issue and taking seriously concerns about the whole heating appliances issue.
‘My worry, however, is the amount of time it is taking for changes to be made.’