Safety tips for people with smell loss
When people lose their sense of smell, whether it’s from a brain injury, COVID-19 or another cause, there are several safety precautions which need to be put in place to keep that person safe. Smoke and natural gas in particular, often rely on a functioning sense of smell to alert someone that there is a problem. If this sense is compromised (and there is no one else in the house), these risks can have serious consequences.
Here are our top 10 safety tips for people with smell loss:
1. Install smoke detectors and heat alarms immediately and test them regularly.
Smoke detectors detect smoke and provide an early warning that a fire has started.
Heat detectors are generally better for kitchens, as they go off when the room heats up to a particular temperature (usually above 57°C), but don’t go off in response to cooking fumes or burnt food.
The local fire service can provide smoke and heat detectors free-of-charge to at-risk customers if they sign up for a free “Safe and Well’ visit.
You can also self-assess fire risk in the home by using the Home Fire Safety Checker by the London Fire Brigade.
2. Purchase and use timers or Alexa-reminders.
Timers and/or Alexa-reminders prevent fires and burnt food, by reminding someone that they have food in the oven (or on the hob) and allowing them to track cooking time.
3. Install natural gas detectors if you have a gas fire, cooker or boiler.
If there is natural gas fitted into the property (or an adjacent property), people should have a natural gas detector/alarm installed to alert them of gas leaks. Natural gas detectors, such as Honeywell or FireAngel, need to be hardwired into the property’s electrical circuitry. Battery-powered alarms will be on the market soon.
The National Gas Emergency Call Centre number is 0800 111 999. Make sure you have this phone number posted prominently in your home. For more information on what to do in the event of a gas leak click HERE.
4. Install carbon monoxide detectors (if there is a risk).
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless, toxic gas. Carbon monoxide detectors are needed if there is an appliance in the home that burns fuel, including gas/oil/propane/wood powered boilers, heaters, ovens, stoves and open fireplaces. There needs to be a carbon monoxide detector in every room that has one of these appliances. These alarms will go off when there is more than 50ppm of carbon monoxide in the air.1 For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning – causes, symptoms and what to do – click HERE.
5. Choose appliances with flame-failure devices, or switch to electrical appliances.
Flame-failure safety devices (sometimes also called flame-safety devices or flame-supervision devices), stop the flow of gas to an appliance when a flame isn’t present. This should come as standard on all new gas appliances purchased in the UK after 2010. You will want to replace pre-2010 gas appliances in your home with either a newer gas model or electric model.
6. Install locking cooker valves, for at-risk clients.
‘Locking Cooker Valves’ can be installed free-of-charge from your regional gas network provider. This device allows a family member or support worker to stop the flow of gas to the cooker for specific periods of time using a lock-and-key mechanism. According to SGN (a gas distribution company), “this eliminates the risk of the cooker being unintentionally turned on or left on, and gives peace of mind to carers or relatives that the cooker can’t be used when they leave the house or the room. The carer or relative can easily turn the valve on using the key when the cooker is required, enabling the household to continue to use their gas cooker safely.”4
7. Register to be on the Priority Services Register.
This register is free for all vulnerable individuals – including anyone who has an impaired sense of smell/sight/hearing, is disabled, has a long-term medical condition, is pregnant, has young children, is state pension age or has extra communication needs. This register allows the gas and electric companies to get in touch with these customers first, and offer them additional support, if there are any issues with the gas/electricity supply in their area. Each company will have their own register, so you need to sign up for each company you are with.
Click HERE to search your postal code and find out who your gas and electricity suppliers are in your area. Then go to each website and sign up for their Priority Services Register.
8. Monitor ‘use-by’ dates on food.
Consuming spoiled food can cause sickness and food poisoning. When someone doesn’t have a sense of smell, they can’t use the ‘sniff test’ to assess whether certain foods have spoiled. Use-by dates relate to the safety of a food and all items should be disposed of after this date (this is different to ‘best-before’ dates which relate more to the quality of an item).5 Everyone should label their food with the date it was opened, to reduce the risk of food poisoning. If in doubt, throw it out!
9. Use chemicals/bleach/paint thinner in well ventilated areas.
Toxic fumes from these substances can build up and someone with a reduced sense of smell will not be able to detect this. Keep doors and windows open when using these products.
10. Appoint a roommate or family member to be your ‘surrogate nose.’
If the people you live with are aware of your smell loss, they can make a priority of alerting you to any dangers you may be unaware of.
Thank you to Fifth Sense, the charity for people affected by smell and taste disorders, and their partner Cadent Gas, for providing some of the information used in this article. For more information on smell loss and safety concerns, go to the Fifth Sense website and sign up for their smell safety campaign.
Cadent Gas has also very graciously provided us with “scratch and sniff” cards that can be used to assess whether someone can detect the smell of natural gas. Please get in touch with us, if you would like some of these to use with your clients.
The dietitians at Specialist Nutrition Rehab specialise in helping clients with taste and/or smell loss rediscover the joy of food and eating. We also highlight the above safety concerns as part of our client review appointments and can work with the occupational therapist to ensure these get implemented. For more information or to make a referral, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0121 384 7087.
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