Plea for carbon monoxide alarms
Gas companies should give free carbon monoxide alarms to all households, councils have said.
Carbon monoxide poisoning kills 40 people a year and can be caused by wrongly installed appliances and blocked flues and chimneys.
The gas can be difficult to detect as it has no smell, taste or colour, but can kill in minutes.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, said there is a "moral imperative" for utility companies to provide the electronic alarm, which costs about £15.
Izzi Seccombe, chairwoman of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, said: "As the cold weather bites this Christmas, more and more households will be firing up their gas central heating. With that comes an increased risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
"Pregnant women, unborn children and babies are particularly vulnerable to this silent killer.
"Yet for the price of an electronic carbon monoxide detector that costs about £15 - and considerably cheaper bought in bulk - the gas giants could be potentially saving scores of lives. This initiative could lead to a colossal cut in the number of poisonings.
"The profits of the big six gas companies in particular have rocketed over the past few years and with another harsh winter forecast they are likely to soar again.
"We believe there is a moral imperative for them to put back what would amount to a fraction of those profits into offering these life-savings devices free of charge to all households.
"The gas companies, after all, benefit from selling boiler repair policies, so they will easily recoup their costs. The alarms should be paid for from their existing profits - the cost must not be passed on to their customers."
About 4,000 people visit Accident and Emergency and 200 are admitted to hospital every year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, with many more cases believed to be unreported.
Symptoms of mild carbon monoxide poisoning can be similar to the flu or food poisoning, and include a headache, dizziness and nausea.
Currently carbon monoxide alarms must be installed in any property with a solid fuel heating system, such as a wood burning stove, but not in other homes.
Ms Seccombe added: "In our view, any risk is a risk too far and inaction on [the gas companies'] part is unacceptable. It is time to see them take corporate responsibility over this issue.
"We are also urging households to ensure all appliances are installed and regularly serviced by a reputable, registered engineer. While carbon monoxide alarms are potential life-savers, they are not a substitute for this."