Last month’s tragedy in Corfu was a reminder of a series of deaths in similar circumstances among holidaymakers in the 1980s and 1990s, the last on the Costa del Sol in 1994.


Federation of Tour Operators secretary-general Andy Cooper recalled: “Our members took a view to stop using accommodation with internal gas water heaters. Subsequently, campaigners pointed out it was preferable to have checks in place and some were retained.”


The latest deaths have again raised the issue of the safety of gas boilers, although in this instance it was an external boiler housed in a lean-to building next to a bungalow.


UK gas safety watchdog Corgi has issued a warning to holidaymakers and called on holiday companies to ensure accommodation meets UK safety standards rather than those in destinations.


The FTO believes its members do this but there are no guidelines for the industry. Operators Travel Weekly has spoken to since the tragedy have sought to make a distinction between internal and external heaters, something the FTO does not. The Association of Independent Tour Operators said it was up to its 150 members to practice “due diligence” as required by the Package Travel Regulations. These make operators liable for negligence on the part of a supplier, although the supplier need only comply with the law in its country of operation.


Corgi oversees the servicing and installation of gas appliances in the UK and has worked with the FTO and TUI UK carrying out safety audits. In the UK, landlords must have appliances checked and certified by a Corgi-registered engineer every year. Yet, despite this, about 30 people die annually through carbon monoxide poisoning.


Corgi chief executive MikeThompson said: “Holiday companies must do more to protect customers by ensuring accommodation is checked regularly by qualified installers and fitting audible carbon monoxide detectors in properties.”


The gas industry watchdog said standards overseas vary, even within the EU, and enforcement can vary greatly. Checks can often depend on the qualifications and experience of the person doing the checking.


Corgi recently tested appliances in holiday properties in Spain. “We were concerned at some of the things we found. We’re calling on operators to ensure overseas properties meet UK standards and use qualified people,” said a spokeswoman. “We’d like to see operators install detectors in properties over the winter season. It’s not expensive and would give tourists peace of mind.”


However, Cooper said: “One major tour operator has surveyed a good proportion of its stock and found 20,000 rooms with gas boilers. At £20 a time the detectors would cost £400,000. It might be appropriate, but how far should the concept of safety go?


“Restrictions vary between countries and operators try to impose standards to minimise the risk. Our members carry 16 million customers a year, with perhaps 40% in selfcatering accommodation. The last death of a holidaymaker was in 1994 and there have been 437 deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning in the UK since then. So operators seem to have minimised the risk.”


He added: “We will review our policies in light of experience. But FTO members represent just 30% of leisure travellers. The question is: how do you protect the majority of people who travel? It’s sad that it takes a tragedy to make people look at this again. But something has to produce hot water. Every form of domestic appliance has a risk.”


CARBON MONOXIDE:
THE FACTS

Carbon monoxide is produced by faulty gas appliances and is dicult to detect because it is odourless. Corgi recommends holidaymakers:


  • know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: nausea, headache, fatigue
  • check a travel company’s gas safety precautions
  • check if a carbon monoxide detector with an audible alarm is fitted in accommodation
  • if there is no detector, take one – available for about £20 from Comet and B&Q
  • check boilers for black marks or an orange pilot light, and rooms for excessive condensation