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Carbon Monoxide in the Catering Industry – An Employer’s Guide

Guest article by Gavin Evans, solicitor and partner at Simpson Millar Solicitors, for Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week.

As part of CO Awareness week we are taking this opportunity to raise awareness of the dangers this deadly gas can cause in kitchens.  All employers should be alert to the dangers.  Expert Lawyer, Gavin Evans from Simpson Millar offers some advice to employers on their legal responsibilities.

CO kills

“I am passionate about raising awareness about this deadly gas.  CO kills and we need to get the message out there to prevent any more unnecessary deaths or exposures to victims. For those fortunate enough to survive an exposure the damage/injuries can be profound. I urge everybody to read and share this article.  Please spread the word.”

Stephanie Trotter OBE, the President and Director of CO-Gas Safety, adds that a large number of people have “very limited knowledge about the dangers of CO exposure and how to prevent it. CO cannot be detected using human senses. Sadly most people are also unaware of just how quickly CO can kill - less than 2% of CO in the air can kill in between one and three minutes.”

Chefs and catering staff are particularly vulnerable

One source of exposure to Carbon Monoxide in the workplace which is not often reported on is in kitchens in the catering industry. Chefs and all catering staff are particularly vulnerable as well as people living adjacent to or above restaurants and take-aways.

The kitchen is a dangerous place to work, particularly working with gas appliances but also, solid fuel appliances like charcoal grills or tikka ovens which can be deadly especially if there is not enough ventilation. There is a risk in kitchens of a long term low level exposure which can cause serious life long damage to health and a risk of a short term high level of exposure which can be fatal.

Did you know?

  • Build up of food residue around a gas hob can starve the flame of oxygen and lead to a build up of carbon monoxide.Carbon Monoxide is the deadly by-product of incomplete combustion.
  • You can starve the flame of oxygen on a hob if you put oversized pots on the hob which can also lead to a build up of carbon monoxide.
  • The flame on your hob / oven should burn blue, if it burns orange, that can be an indicator that carbon monoxide could be present
  • Adequate ventilation is required for charcoal ovens at all time, even when the kitchen staff are not present. This is because they cannot be switched off and without adequate ventilation CO can build up.

You must be alert to the symptoms of this deadly gas (you could just save an employee’s life). Here are some of symptoms to look out for:

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea

  • Breathlessness

  • Confusion

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • Fatigue

  • Depression

  • Loss of Consciousness

What the law says

There is a general duty that every employer owes to its employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to take all step as far as possible to ensure that the workplace and equipment their employees work in are safe and pose no risk to their health.

Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, every employer is responsible for providing suitable and effective ventilation in the workplace which includes kitchens. 

The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 place additional duties on employers.  Regulation 35 imposes a duty on employers to ensure that the gas appliance, installation pipework or flue installed at any place of work under his control is maintained in a safe condition to prevent risk of injury to any person. The Health & Safety Executive publication “Gas Safety in Catering and Hospitality” provides excellent recommendations and is a must for all employers to read. This is easily accessible and downloadable from the HSE website.

If you don’t have your appliances regularly serviced, inspected and maintained and if your kitchen is not adequately ventilated then you could find yourself liable and in breach of these regulations and you could be prosecuted. It’s just possible you could face a charge of manslaughter by gross negligence.

Risk assessment, inspection and maintenance

If you don’t have a risk assessment in place for Carbon Monoxide poisoning, take urgent professional advice to put one in place. Make sure you identify all potential sources and causes of a carbon monoxide leak in the kitchen in your risk assessment and put in controls, preventative measures and ensure frequent cleaning, inspections and checks.

Fit an adequate extraction system. Seek professional advice to check your canopy hood is of suitable size to provide enough extraction to minimise the risk of Carbon Monoxide building up. And make sure you record and document all your inspections and checks.


Educate your employees to make them CO aware and vigilant as to the possible CO sources and dangers that can be present in the kitchen.  Alert them to the potential symptoms of CO poisoning.

Alarm controls / Interlock Systems

If you don’t have a commercial CO alarm or Interlock System already fitted, seek professional advice.   The Gas Safe Regulations and  British Standard BS6173 both require an interlock system to be fitted to all new kitchens and existing kitchens where new appliances or extraction systems are installed.  If there is no pre-existing interlocking system in place, employers have a duty to consider and assess the risk and implement additional controls if the risk is likely. Many interlock systems operate in tandem with commercial carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide alarms which will automatically shut off the gas supply if CO is detected.

If you have any suspicion that you have a gas leak of any description, get out and ensure everyone else evacuates the building immediately

  • Call the National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999

  • Call 999 – the fire brigade have breathing apparatus so are able to go in and switch off appliances, gas supply and so on

  • Tell your staff to visit their GP or A & E ASAP and tell them to inform the doctor they believe they may have been exposed to CO. It is important to get tested as soon as possible as CO dissipates from your blood very quickly so it is important for early and accurate diagnosis so you can be put on the right treatment path as soon as possible.

  • Also alert any residents above or adjacent to the kitchen.

CO kills

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