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Alert over gas boilers with flues in voids

A death linked to carbon monoxide poisoning at a new flat development has provoked the Health and Safety Executive to issue a safety alert regarding boilers with gas flues which travel through ceiling voids.

Builders, developers, managing agents, landlords and occupiers of residential properties are being warned about the potential poisoning risk from gas central heating boilers sited on internal walls.

The HSE has issued the warning as a result of an ongoing investigation into a suspected carbon monoxide poisoning case at a flat development where one person died and another was left in a coma.

The development was only three or four months old. The HSE said the flue from the boiler in the property ran through a ceiling void and it is believed that high levels of carbon monoxide escaped through defects in this flue and entered the apartment.

The HSE statement said: “The risk arises from a particular arrangement of flues for gas boilers. 

“Such boilers, most commonly found in multi-storey flats and apartments built since 2000, may have a flue that runs through the ceiling void. 

“HSE has become aware that some flues may not have been installed properly, or may have fallen into disrepair. 

“If the flue is not in good condition, this could affect the performance of the boiler, which if not
working efficiently, may produce high levels of carbon monoxide (CO). 

“This may then enter the ceiling void through any breaks in the flue (e.g. if joints are not sealed properly) and into the living space below, placing occupants at risk of CO poisoning.”

The HSE has stressed that gas installers must be able to carry out a visual inspection of flue systems to ensure their safety.

The statement said: “When commissioning, servicing or maintaining boilers, gas installers need to be able to visually check the flue system.

“Where a flue runs through a ceiling or similar void, a means of access should be provided at strategic locations. 

“A number of properties built recently have not been provided with such means of access so it is not possible to tell if the flue was correctly installed or has subsequently deteriorated. “

The Health and Safety Executive admits it does not know how many buildings may be effected and is working to find out the true extent of the problem

The statement said: “HSE is working with property developers, the gas industry and construction trade associations to try and establish how many properties may have been developed with flues in ceiling voids but without means of access for inspection, and to agree appropriate action. 

Relevant Government departments have also been alerted. 

“In the meantime, HSE’s advice to property owners and landlords is to ensure gas appliances are serviced and maintained at least annually by a competent, registered installer.  HSE also recommends the use of carbon monoxide alarms as a supplementary measure.”

The safety alert gives advice on potential warning signs; what owners or tenants should do if they think they may be at risk; relevant legal requirements; key actions for property developers and sources of further information. 

The alert can be found on HSE’s website by clicking here