Skip to main content

A gas safety reminder

A couple of recent cases have again reminded all social landlords of the need to remain on top of gas safety and that their contractors must always…

A couple of recent cases have again reminded all social landlords of the need to remain on top of gas safety and that their contractors must always maintain their infrastructure to the highest legal standards.

Mears, a Gloucester company, was sentenced at Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court last month for breaching section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Section 3 requires all employers to ensure so far as reasonably practicable that those affected by their undertaking are not thereby exposed to risks to their health and safety, in this case an elderly tenant.

Mears was the principal contractor for the refurbishment of 67 properties on behalf of a social housing landlord, which was not named by the Health and Safety Executive, at Coral Close, Holmleigh in 2012. During these works, combustion ventilation required for a gas-powered warm air unit in one of the properties was cladded over, the flue removed and a roof fitted over the top, leaving the unit to discharge into the loft.

The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning deriving from unventilated boilers and gas systems is well recognised and the consequences can be potentially fatal. In order to ensure that ventilation is not compromised, those conducting work on boiler and gas systems should identify works which could potentially affect the ventilation of gas and boiler, have systems in place to assess and address those risks, and ensure that all those working on the project are aware of the risks.

While the relevant works were in fact conducted by a subcontractor and not directly by Mears itself, health and safety duties cannot be delegated and so duty holders can still be liable for the actions of their subcontractors. In this instance Mears received a fine of £15,000 and was ordered to pay £3,587 in costs. It admitted to the breach.

Those responsible for such projects should take note, and must not only ensure that those working on their projects are competent to conduct the work, but should also ensure that all work is risk assessed, there are safe systems of work in place, and that any problems with the work of subcontractors can be quickly identified and addressed.

The financial implications for social landlords who do not meet their health and safety obligations are set to substantially increase when the new sentencing guidelines for health and safety cases come into force in the near future. No official date has been given for either the publication or coming-into-force of the new guidelines. These guidelines make turnover a key ingredient in determining the fine to be imposed, with larger organisations likely to face significant six figure fines even where no actual injury or death has occurred.

In a year that has seen the high profile inquest into the deaths of two British children who sadly died from carbon monoxide poisoning in Corfu, and a series of warnings from the Gas Safe Register, it is fair to say that the risks associated with carbon monoxide are firmly on the agenda.