Three-minute killer: Hartlepool Council warns against disposable barbeques

June 14, 2013 6:08 pm1 commentViews: 797

The fumes from a BBQ can be deadly in an enclosed space – Image: K J Payne

Council trading standards officers in Hartlepool are urging people to guard against the dangers of using disposable barbecues following an investigation.

The latest warning follows an investigation into the labelling of throwaway barbecues being sold throughout Hartlepool which found that out of 23 disposable barbecues being sold; only eight displayed any warning about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide can kill within just three minutes and there have been a number of tragic deaths in recent years throughout the country.

“The words ‘Roland Wessling, I arrest you for the murder of Hazel Woodhams’ will always be with me.”

In the past two years eight men, women and children – one as young as six – have died as a result of charcoal barbecues being taken into tents, caravans, vehicles and buildings to be used for cooking, keeping warm or simply to keep camp sites tidy.

In April 2012 a six-year-old-girl died while camping near the New Forest, Hampshire when a coal briquette barbecue was taken inside a tent to provide overnight warmth and the following month a 14-year-old girl died at Bucknell, South Shropshire, in similar circumstances.

Disposable barbecues give off carbon monoxide when being used and continue to do so until they are completely cold. Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas that, even in relatively small quantities, prevents blood from providing essential oxygen to cells, tissues, and organs.

Exposure to carbon monoxide in enclosed spaces often causes drowsiness and the victims fall asleep unaware of the poison gas that is killing them.

Arrested for murder after tragic carbon monoxide poisoning death 

After Roland Wessling, a Research Fellow at Cranfield University, was arrested for the murder of his wife police were surprised to find that it was actually carbon monoxide which killed his partner.

“I lost my partner Hazel Woodhams in July 2011 to carbon monoxide poisoning and almost died myself. I somehow survived but suffered severe injuries. What losing Hazel means to me, cannot be put into words, let alone into numbers. What happened to me, can.

As a direct result of the carbon monoxide poisoning, I spent 2 weeks in intensive care, a further 2 weeks in hospital after that, I had 8 operations on my right arm, resulting in a scar with 80 stitches, 70 cm or 28 inches long, 6 hours in 3 sessions in a hyperbolic chamber at a simulated 30 metre depth to get the carbon monoxide out of my system, I had 6 months of physio and hydrotherapy up to 5 times a week and, to date, just under 14,500 painkillers to deal with the aftermath of the injuries.

A carbon monoxide detector for home use – Image: Wikimedia

“All this is the result of taking a small, cold-to-the-touch charcoal barbecue grill into a large tent before going to bed. We were both highly educated people, both had MSc degrees in forensic sciences, Hazel worked as a Scene of Crime Officers for West Yorkshire Police and I teach forensic science at the UK Defence Academy at Cranfield University. We should have known that there was a risk of carbon monoxide and other harmful gases from the charcoal but we didn’t. We had a carbon monoxide detector in our house but that was not enough to save Hazel’s life.

“Carbon monoxide can threaten in many different environments, such as tents, boats or at home, and kills almost instantly. Without proper education, greater awareness and safer products, more and more people will die as the result of carbon monoxide poisoning and some of these cases will not even be attributed to carbon monoxide.

“I was arrested when the police arrived on site. What they saw was a couple, one dead, the other injured and I appeared to be ‘drugged’. I was de-arrested six hours later when the hospital confirmed the carbon monoxide level in my blood. And I do not blame the police officers on the scene in the slightest but the words ‘Roland Wessling, I arrest you for the murder of Hazel Woodhams’ will always be with me. The thought that anyone could contemplate that I killed the person I loved most in the world, is completely overwhelming.”

Serious warning

Ian Harrison of Hartlepool Council said: “When used as intended, in the open air, disposable charcoal barbecues are a safe, easy, cost effective method of cooking food. After using them the residual heat from the barbecue can be seen by campers as a way of keeping warm in their tents, unaware that even when cooling down carbon monoxide is produced and contained within the canvas walls with deadly effect.

“Despite these widely publicised deadly events and the efforts of concerned organisations to raise awareness and persuade manufacturers and retailers to improve warnings the majority of disposable barbecues on sale still do not contain any information about the dangers of carbon monoxide.

“Warnings that barbecues are not to be used indoors are simply not enough as, without any mention of potential carbon monoxide poisoning, users may think the warning relates to the potential fire risk and would not assume that a cooling barbecue can still be deadly.

“Our message is simple; once lit, a disposable barbecue should never be taken inside a tent or other enclosed space for any reason. After use, a disposable barbecue should be left outside to cool down and, once completely cold, disposed of appropriately.”

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