Moonlighting gas engineer sentenced after illegal work at take-aways

A domestic gas engineer has been sentenced to 90 hours community payback after carrying out work on commercial catering premises that he was not competent to do.

James Richard Harvey Skinner, 43, from Portlethen, Aberdeenshire, was employed by a gas company but, unknown to them, he did private gas fitting work in commercial take-aways and restaurants as an unregistered gas engineer. He undertook gas safety inspection and installation work at Indian takeaways in Stonehaven and Portlethen in 2010.

Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard today (18 June) that Mr Skinner issued Gas Safety records on the wrong forms using a Gas Safe registration number that he fraudulently claimed was his own, which turned out to belong to a former employer.

Mr Skinner’s activities were investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after complaints from Gas Safe Register and Aberdeenshire Council.

A Gas Safe engineer visited two take-aways and found a number of safety issues that a gas engineer with catering competence should have identified including an open-ended gas pipe that was left uncapped.

HSE said this could have caused a significant build-up of gas and a subsequent explosion had the isolation valve been turned by mistake and the gas ignited. An immediate Prohibition Notice was issued halting use of the relevant gas appliances until they were made safe.

The court heard that although Mr Skinner did not necessarily create the risks in the premises, he failed to ensure that they were identified and remedied.

A similar investigation at another take-away found incorrect fitting of a tandoori oven and no ‘interlocking’ of the extraction system, meaning gas could have been turned on without the extractor operating, which could have led to a build-up of Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide levels, putting workers at risk of poisoning.  Once again an immediate Prohibition Notice was served on the premises.

The court was told that when Mr Skinner was interviewed, he initially suggested that he had been impersonated, though he later accepted he had undertaken work at the premises.

James Richard Harvey Skinner, 43, of Cairngrassie Circle, Portlethen, Aberdeenshire, was sentenced to a 90 hour community payback order, a direct alternative to a custodial sentence, after pleading guilty to four breaches of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and also to a breach of Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

After sentencing, HSE Inspector John Radcliffe said:

“In carrying out this commercial work while not registered and competent to do so, Mr Skinner put those working in these premises, those living and working nearby and customers visiting them at risk.

“Any business or sole trader who carries out work on any commercial gas appliances without being on the Gas Safe Register is breaking the law and potentially putting lives in danger.

“Despite Mr Skinner being a competent domestic gas engineer, who at the time was employed by a well known company, he did not have current commercial catering qualification/competencies and as a result was operating illegally.

“By knowingly using the registration number of another business, Mr Skinner compounded the severity of his actions by giving his clients a sense of security and safety that was entirely false.”

Russell Kramer, 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 you have to demonstrate competence to recognised training and accreditation bodies. 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 types of gas work they are qualified to carry out. You can check the details by calling 0800 408 5500 or link to external website