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Wrotham man fined over pensioner ordeal

Date:
3 June 2014

A 92-year-old woman suffered dizziness, headaches and falls after a Kent plumber taped over a gas flue in a flat directly above hers, a court has heard.

Paul Hockey, trading as PCH Plumbing, of Wrotham, was prosecuted today (3 June) by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation showed he had breached gas safety regulations.

Sevenoaks Magistrates were told that on 4 July 2013 Mr Hockey was carrying out work at a flat in Borough Green at the request of the managing agents. He was installing two extractor units and wanted to vent them through the loft.

When he went into the roof space, he found two gas flues and assumed one was the supply and the other an extract for an unused gas boiler serving the upstairs flat.  He cut into one of the pipes, used it to vent the extractors and then taped over the bottom open section of the flue to prevent insects getting in.

Over the following few weeks, the elderly resident of the downstairs flat reported dizzy spells, headaches and had fallen several times. On 26 August, Southern Gas Networks visited the property and turned off the gas.

An investigation by the gas engineer two days later found the taped-over flue served the downstairs flat and the products of combustion were unable to escape and had built up in the flat.

The court was told the elderly lady was re-housed temporarily while remedial work was carried out and suffered no long-term effects. There was no proof of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Mr Hockey, of West Street, Wrotham, was fined £1,250 and ordered to pay £500 in costs after admitting breaching the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Rob Hassell said:

“The incident was entirely preventable. Paul Hockey was totally unaware that the flue he cut into was still in use. Alterations to flues should only be carried out by suitably qualified Gas Safe Registered engineers.

“Thankfully this elderly lady suffered no ill-effects longer term. However, people can and do die from carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Companies and individuals should not assume that a flue is not live. They need to investigate the nature and current use of flues serving gas appliances and make sure the work carried out does not adversely affect the safe working of a gas appliance by altering air supply or flue.”

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 8(2) of the Gas Safety (Installation & Use) Regulations 1998 states: “No person shall do anything which would affect a gas fitting or any flue or means of ventilation used in connection with the fitting in such a manner that the subsequent use of the fitting might constitute a danger to any person, except that this paragraph does not apply to an alteration to premises.”

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