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Builder’s dangerous gas work put lives at risk

Date:
22 August 2013

A Wiltshire builder has been fined for illegal and dangerous gas work in Somerset, which could have led to a young family – including two young children – being killed by poisonous carbon monoxide fumes.

Phillip Whittaker, from Westbury, was contracted by the householders to build an extension to a house in Bath Road, Frome, in April 2012. During the work he moved a boiler and pipework, leaving the existing gas boiler flue in its original position, allowing potentially deadly carbon monoxide to be vented into the property instead of outside.

Mr Whittaker was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at Yeovil Magistrates today (22 August) after an investigation into his unsafe work revealed he was not a member of the Gas Safe Register – so not legally qualified to carry out gas work.

The court heard the plans involved moving the existing boiler on an external wall to a new external wall and re-routing the associated gas pipework to a repositioned gas meter.

After Wales and West Utilities moved the gas meter, Whittaker re-routed the pipework, which he connected to the boiler in its existing position and then built the extension over the boiler and flue which was now on an internal wall. As a result, poisonous fumes from the combustion process involved in operating the boiler were vented into the property instead of outside for around six weeks, until the family was alerted to the danger by a friend. A Gas Safe registered engineer was called and rectified the situation.

Checks by HSE established that the builder was not a member of the Gas Safe Register.

Phillip Whittaker, who trades as PJW Property Developments, of Redlands, Bratton, Westbury in Wiltshire, pleaded guilty to four breaches of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and was fined a total of £3,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,000.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Mehtaab Hamid, said:

"Mr Whittaker’s dangerous work could have caused the family serious health issues and ultimately could have led to their death.

"He was not competent to carry out gas work and was not a member of the Gas Safe Register.

"He installed gas pipework using unsafe practices and by building the extension over the boiler and flue, made it almost impossible for the products of the combustion process to escape to atmosphere, creating an immediate danger within the property.

"Although no serious injury occurred, the family have been left distressed by their experience."

Russell Kramer, chief executive of Gas Safe Register, said:

"Unsafe gas work can be the cause of fire, explosion, gas leaks and exposure to deadly carbon monoxide. That is why you should always use a suitably qualified Gas Safe registered engineer. Every Gas Safe registered engineer carries an ID card showing who they are and the work they are qualified to carry out and you can find and check any engineer or business by visiting www.gassaferegister.co.uk or calling 0800 408 5500."

Further information on gas safety can be found on the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/gas. For more information about Gas Safe Register and to find an engineer visit www.gassaferegister.co.uk or call 0800 408 5500.

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Regulation 3(1) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 states: "No person shall carry out any work in relation to a gas fitting or gas storage vessel unless he is competent to do so"
  3. Regulation 3(3) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 states: "No employer shall allow any of his employees to carry out any work in relation to a gas fitting or service pipework and no self-employed person shall carry out any such work, unless the employer or self-employed person, as the case may be, is a member of a class of persons approved for the time being by the Health and Safety Executive for the purposes of this paragraph"
  4. Regulation 7(1) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 states: "Any person installing a gas fitting shall ensure that it is properly supported and so placed or protected as to avoid any undue risk of damage to the fitting."
  5. Regulation 8(1) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 states: "No person shall make any alteration to any premises in which a gas fitting or gas storage vessel is fitted if that alteration would adversely affect the safety of the fitting or vessel in such a manner that, if the fitting or the vessel had been installed after the alteration, there would have been a contravention of, or failure to comply with, these Regulations."

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