Gas fitter sentenced over Irlam explosion

A gas fitter has been sentenced following a major explosion in Irlam which injured ten adults and five children, and left a 73-year-old woman with severe burns.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Paul Kay after carrying out a large-scale investigation into the explosion on Merlin Road on 2 November 2010, which destroyed three houses and caused extensive damage to several others.

Manchester Crown Court heard today (15 April 2013) that Marie Burns went downstairs to make her breakfast at around 7.15am on the day of the explosion, and turned the knob on her cooker to switch on the gas hob.

The next thing she remembers is seeing a flash to the left of the cooker as her house exploded around her. She survived but was taken to hospital with severe burns.

The HSE investigation found that Mr Kay had carried out work at the property the day before the explosion as part of a project to install new kitchens in several houses on the Irlam estate.

The 30-year-old had needed to disconnect the gas meter so that it could be removed from the bottom shelf of an old sink unit. He then stacked up six bricks on the floor and rested the gas meter on them before reconnecting the gas supply.

The court was told this left the meter in an unacceptable state, as it meant it was not secured properly and increased the risk of a gas leak.

A forensic examination of the gas pipes at the house also found that a lead pipe leading to the meter had been connected to a brass pipe several years earlier, using a piece of metal solder just 2.5mm wide. This left the joint in a fundamentally weak condition and was identified as another cause of the explosion.

However, investigators were unable to establish exactly when this work took place, or who carried it out. HSE was therefore unable to bring a separate prosecution against the person responsible.

The investigation concluded that when Mr Kay left the gas meter unsupported on a pile bricks, this may have widened a fracture in the joint and allowed gas to slowly seep into the property overnight.

Paul Kay, of Slater Street in Warrington, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 7(1) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 by failing to make sure the gas meter was properly supported. He was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £500 in prosecution costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Philip Strickland said:

“Paul Kay’s actions increased the risk of the explosion, which destroyed three houses, damaged several others and injured 15 people, including Marie Burns.

“The weak connection on the pipes leading to the gas meter meant there had been a risk of a gas leak at the property for several years, and the person responsible for that work would also have been prosecuted if we had been able to identify them.

“However, Paul Kay increased the risk of an explosion when he decided to rest the meter on a pile of bricks, rather than properly securing it to the wall or a raised platform on the floor.

“If registered gas engineers do not meet their legal duties they can expect to be held account for their actions. They must apply their knowledge and skills on every job and make sure appliances and supplies are left safe for people to use.”

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