Builder’s dangerous gas work put lives at risk

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 link to external website or calling 0800 408 5500.”