A problem with an LPG system and a subsequent carbon monoxide build-up is some of the areas being looked at following the death at the Trident hotel.
In Britain there are stringent laws around the installation of LPG appliances, however in Ireland the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) has yet to take over new responsibilities relating to safety regulation in this area. A CER spokesperson said because of the serious nature of the incident in Kinsale, it was providing assistance to investigating gardaí.
Meanwhile, the Health and Safety Authority said it had not launched a full-scale enquiry into the incident as it has yet be established if the accident was work-related. “If the problem occurred due to work activity or if there was maintenance carried out and something was not done then we will have a part to play in the investigation,” a spokesperson said.
The HSA said it could be involved in investigating about one or two fatalities each year in relation to carbon monoxide poisoning. Usual cases are when workers are confined in small spaces where there has been a build-up of carbon monoxide — such as in grain silos.
Last year, the HSA investigated the death of Declan Murphy at his home in Co Laois. Mr Murphy lost his life after suffocating on carbon monoxide fumes from a wood pellet burner.
Rosemary Scallon, Dana, also took to the airwaves last month to warn people about the importance of installing a carbon monoxide alarm in their homes. It followed the deaths of her nephew by marriage, Killian Scallon and his wife Pauline.
Meanwhile, the head of a carbon monoxide detector company said there is a “significant lack of knowledge” about carbon monoxide among the general public in Ireland.
John Walsh, director of the CO Detector Company said while the US, Britain and Northern Ireland had recently passed laws that require carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in homes, Ireland had not passed similar legislation.
Mr Walsh claimed that up to 40 deaths a year are caused by carbon monoxide poisoning in Ireland, with many going unreported.
Carbon monoxide is produced when fossil fuels containing carbon (coal, wood, oil or gas) are burned without sufficient oxygen to allow for complete combustion. As carbon monoxide enters the body through the lungs, it inhibits the ability of the blood stream to carry oxygen throughout the body.
Exposure to low concentrations of carbon monoxide can cause headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pains in persons with heart disease.
Higher concentrations can result in severe headaches, dizziness, disorientation, and various flu-like symptoms which mysteriously disappear when away from the source of exposure. Extreme levels of exposure can result in coma, convulsions, cardio-respiratory failure, and death.
“People assume that if they have a smoke detector in their house they are safe and don’t realise that carbon monoxide does not produce smoke, in fact it is colourless, tasteless and odourless so you get no warning,” he said.