Care home provider fined after dangerous gas work put lives of elderly residents at risk

A Dumfries and Galloway care home provider has been fined for allowing unqualified handymen to illegally install two gas boilers at the premises in Sanquhar.

The “shoddy and dangerous” gas work later led to the emergency evacuation of frail residents of the Queensberry Care Home and an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

At Dumfries and Galloway Sheriff Court yesterday (28 May), Harveys Healthcare Ltd was fined £55,000 after pleading guilty to a breach of Regulation 4 of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act etc 1974.

Harveys Healthcare Ltd, of Laurie’s Wynd, Sanquhar, admitted failing to ensure that the men they employed to replace the central heating boiler were qualified and registered with the Gas Safe Register.

The court was told that on the morning of 3 February 2010 a strong smell of gas was detected from the boiler room of the home and, following advice from Transco, the affected unit – caring for nine elderly and infirm residents – was evacuated. A gas engineer issued an ‘immediately dangerous’ certificate, capped the gas supply to the boiler room and expressed concerns about the authenticity and validity of gas safety certificates supposedly relating to the installation of the two boilers.

HSE discovered that the “Gas Safe” registered heating engineer whose name appeared on the gas safety certificates had no knowledge of the work in the premises. The certificates also contained inaccuracies relating to the engineer’s postcode and registration numbers.

The investigation also discovered that the handyman Abdul Kareem who is believed to have carried out the work has never been registered with the Gas Safe Register or its predecessor, CORGI. In addition, it was found that excessive amounts of paste had been added to pipe joints, probably in an attempt to prevent gas leaking. A forensic expert who examined sections of the pipework concluded that this was completely unacceptable, would only ever have stopped the escape of gas on a temporary basis and clearly demonstrated incompetence on the part of the person who had assembled the joint.

Following the case, HSE Principal Inspector Jim Young, said:

“Care homes house very vulnerable people and the failure by Harveys Healthcare Ltd to ensure that people employed by them were suitably qualified and registered to carry out work with gas systems is particularly worrying.

“Although thankfully nobody was injured, the work carried out by Abdul Kareem was extremely shoddy and resulted in an extremely dangerous and potentially fatal situation.”

Paul Johnston, chief executive of Gas Safe Register, said:

“In the right hands gas is safe but gas work should only ever be undertaken by a suitably qualified and competent Gas Safe registered engineer.

“In order to become Gas Safe registered gas fitters have to demonstrate their competence to recognised training and accreditation bodies and the public should always ensure that whoever is carrying out gas work can prove they are registered. Every registered engineer has an ID card which can be used to check they are who they say they are and shows the kinds of gas work they are qualified to carry out. You can check the details by calling 0800 408 5500 or link to external website.”