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Chimney sweep fined for pensioner’s death

Date:
11 February 2013

A chimney sweep has been sentenced after his failure to remove a bird’s nest blocking a chimney flue led to the death of a pensioner in his South Wales home.

Phillip Jones, of Porthcawl, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £2,500 in costs at Cardiff Crown Court following a prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The court was told that 73-year-old retired miner Derwyn Rees of Maesteg Road, Llangynwyd, Maesteg had experienced problems keeping his solid fuel fire alight.

Mr Jones, who has been a sweep for 25 years, was asked to sweep the chimney and carried out the work on 5 September 2008 while Mr Rees’ sister, was away.

The next day – Mr Rees’ birthday – his neighbours noticed his curtains were still drawn and found him dead in his bed. Following a police-led investigation an inquest in October 2010 revealed he died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Further investigations by HSE and a solid fuel specialist revealed an extensive bird’s nest inside the chimney.

Although Mr Jones had encountered a blockage of the chimney while sweeping, he did not check to see if his brush cleared the chimney pot which would indicate the blockage had been cleared. In addition, he failed to carry out a proper smoke test after completing the job, give advice to Mr Rees on ventilating the property or give any verbal or written warning.

HSE Inspector Stephen Jones, speaking after the hearing, said:

“This was a tragic incident and a great shock for Mr Rees’ sister and their local community.

“Chimney sweeping is a vitally important job. Sadly Mr Rees paid for substandard work with his life.

“Sweeps must ensure work is done thoroughly and householders are given full information about proper ventilation of their homes to ensure similar tragedies do not happen in the future.”

Mr Rees niece, Janet Jones, said:

“Derwyn’s death was an avoidable tragedy and has had a huge impact on the family. We hope this case sends a clear message to sweeps so that this sort of incident does not happen again and other people are not put at risk.

“Every year around 15 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning and prolonged exposure can also lead to paralysis and brain damage.”

Phillip Keith Jones, of Lakeview Close, Porthcawl, pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 3 (2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Martin P Glynn, President of the National Association of Chimney Sweeps (NACS), said:

“It is always best practice to conduct smoke evacuation checks on chimneys and flues after chimney sweeping to ensure that they are left in a safe working order. This tragic case highlights the necessity of using a trained and competent chimney sweep who works to a professional standard as stipulated in the National Code of Practice. Unfortunately the chimney sweep in this incident was not registered or approved.”

Further information on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning can be found on the HSE website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/gas/domestic/co.htm

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. Section 3 (2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states that it shall be the duty of every self-employed person to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health and safety.
  3. Further details from the NACS on training and qualifications can be found at www.nacs.org.uk. Inclusion of comments from NACS does not imply an endorsement or the exclusion of other relevant industry bodies.

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