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Builder’s work on chimney put elderly couple at risk

Date:
14 July 2014

A roofing contractor has been given a suspended prison sentence after an elderly couple was exposed to deadly fumes when his work on a chimney stack caused a blockage above a gas fire.

John Stanley had been hired to sort out a water leak between a double chimney stack and roof tiles by householders at a property on Black Swan Lane, Luton in August 2011. However, his team’s repair work blocked the chimney above the gas fire, leading to a potentially-dangerous leak of combustion fumes within the property’s loft space.

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which today (14 July) prosecuted Mr Stanley at Luton Magistrates’ Court.

Magistrates heard that employees of Mr Stanley, 47, from Luton, had dismantled the old double chimney to just below roof tile level, made some repairs to roof timbers and felt, then built a single chimney stack back up.

What they failed to do was check the flue for the gas fire in the property’s back living room was still in full working order. It later emerged that it was this chimney that was blocked by the firm when the stack was rebuilt instead of the chimney of the disused and boarded-up fireplace in the property’s front living room.

The householders only found out about this in November 2012 when they had to call a Gas Safe registered engineer to examine the gas fire, which they were having trouble lighting.

A subsequent investigation by HSE found that the gas fire had been used for over a year with all the fumes going into the loft, over their bedroom, instead of through the flue and chimney – leaving them at serious risk over an extended period of time. A very simple smoke test would have highlighted the issue straight away after completion of the work.

John Stanley, of Hitchin Road, Luton, trading as King Roofing and Durable Plastics, pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He was given a four-month prison sentence suspended for two years, and ordered to pay £500 compensation to the couple he put at risk.

Speaking after the hearing, investigating HSE Inspector Robert Meardon said:

“John Stanley’s sub-standard work created an on-going breach and a prolonged risk to the safety of a vulnerable and elderly couple. It cost them a huge amount of unnecessary anxiety and a considerable amount of money to rectify – on top of their savings they had used to pay Mr Stanley for the work.

“When a chimney is the flue for a gas fire, it is a vital part of the gas installation and should only be done by a competent gas engineer on the Gas Safe Register.

“Mr Stanley advertised himself as a specialist roofing contractor, but he was never on the Gas Safe Register and not qualified to carry out gas work. He should have never undertaken this job knowing that a gas fire was linked to the chimney.

“This incident could have resulted in fatalities as gas fire fumes can contain poisonous carbon monoxide, which can kill. It is vital that building contractors are aware of the risks they create and comply with the laws in place to control the risks.”

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

“Every Gas Safe registered engineer carries a Gas Safe ID card, which shows who they are and the type of gas appliances they are qualified to work on.

“We always encourage the public to ask for and check the card and if they have any concerns about the safety of work carried out in their home, to speak to us. Every year we investigate thousands of reports of illegal gas work. Call us on 0800 408 5500 or visit our website at www.gassaferegister.co.uk.

Further information about gas safety can be found online at http://www.hse.gov.uk/gas

 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: “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 or safety”.
  3. Further HSE news releases are available at http://press.hse.gov.uk

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