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Festivals sound alarm over ‘silent killer’ CO

A parliamentary session attended by Festival Republic and the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF), which between them represent the majority of the UK’s music festivals, agreed on the need to distribute safety information highlighting the dangers posed carbon monoxide (CO).

A meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG) on Tuesday 5 March brought together Festival Republic – the Live Nation-owned operator of festivals including Download, Wireless and Reading/Leeds – the AIF, which represents 60+ indies, along with campaign groups and energy industry representatives, to discuss how they can protect festivalgoers from the dangers of CO poisoning.

CO is an invisible, odourless and tasteless toxic gas produced when carbon-containing fuels burn incompletely. According to the APPCOG, this ‘silent killer’ causes approximately 30 deaths and 200 hospital admissions in England and Wales each year, and high-level exposure can result in coma and death in minutes. Other symptoms of CO poisoning can include headaches, nausea, seizures, paralysis, feeling ‘fluey’, memory loss and changes in mood.

The APPCOG’s research shows that many festivalgoers are unaware that both lit and extinguished barbecues can produce large amounts of deadly carbon monoxide gas, and 49% say say they would use a BBQ inside their tent. This behaviour is unsafe because the CO produced by barbecues isn’t ventilated in confined spaces and builds up to higher concentrations.

Festivalgoers, say MPs, may also be unaware of CO’s symptoms, which can be can easily be confused for a hangover and lead to people not seeking treatment. To address this, the APPCOG recommends a multi-pronged strategy that both reduces the risk of exposure and raises awareness of CO poisoning amongst festivalgoers.

Promoters should utilise a multimedia approach, including advertising on mobile and displaying CO info on festival apps

As direct interventions on festival sites are vital in reducing the risk CO poses to festivalgoers’ health, the APPCOG encourages festival promoters to train their staff on the risk factors and symptoms of CO poisoning. This would enable staff to provide festivalgoers with advice on how to stay safe, and to intervene when they spot behaviours that increase the risk of CO exposure.

The parliamentary group also called on manufacturers to display more prominent safety warnings on disposable BBQ packaging, in order to prevent festivalgoers from taking barbecues inside tents and putting their lives at risk.

For festivals, the meeting agreed on the need for a “collaborative effort between festival providers and campaign groups to collate and distribute safety information that raises awareness of CO poisoning and stops dangerous behaviours”.

This information, the APPCOG recommended, should utilise a multimedia approach to reach patrons, including advertising on mobile phones, displaying CO information on festival apps and using high-profile partners such as bands to engage festivalgoers.

The parliamentary discussion was chaired by APPCOG officer Alex Cunningham MP, and is part of the APPCOG’s larger efforts to raise awareness of CO poisoning and reduce deaths and injuries, as outlined in the 2015 report Carbon Monoxide: From Awareness to Action.


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