Council fined for allowing potentially lethal work

A Welsh local authority has been fined after building work at a house exposed a woman and her foster children to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

A home improvement company was contracted to carry out loft conversion work at a property in Bettws, near Newport, on behalf of Newport City Council in November 2010.

As part of the improvement work the company had to move a boiler and replace a flue, which they left in an ‘immediately dangerous’ condition with the potentially lethal fumes escaping into the loft space.

In a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Cwmbran Magistrates heard today (24 June) that the householder had agreed to modifications to her home with a grant from the council to accommodate foster children.

The company was contracted for the job which included the relocation of the boiler into the new loft space and replacing the flue from the gas fire.

The householder, who lives at her home with four adolescents, complained the boiler was not working properly and was leaking, and arranged for an independent engineer to examine the work.

The engineer found the pressure relief valve had not been connected and confirmed the boiler was leaking. He advised her not to use the equipment and contacted Gas Safe Register, who sent an officer to investigate.

Gas Safe found the boiler was not correctly fitted and the flue from the gas fire had been capped just below the level of the loft, allowing poisonous carbon monoxide gas into the loft space. It was classified as ‘immediately dangerous’.

HSE’s investigation identified that Newport City Council had told the householder to contract the company without checking their competence or monitoring their work. In addition, the council did not follow its own procedures for choosing contractors. Although the authority kept a list of approved firms it did not supply this to the householder and did not involve the council department which normally dealt with such work.

Newport City Council pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £20,000 and was ordered to pay £11,000 in costs.

HSE Inspector Dean Baker, speaking after the hearing, said:

“Newport City Council failed in their obligation to the family to ensure that the contractors they were paying to do the work were able to do it competently and to monitor the work being carried out on their behalf.

“The shoddy and careless work by the contractors could have cost a family with young children their lives. Anyone carrying out work on or near a flue should get the advice of a Gas Safe Registered engineer before starting work.”