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Public awareness and regulatory change among key Gas Safety Week 2018 aims

Parliamentary reception held to mark campaign launch considers need for regulatory change and how best to improve awareness of safer gas appliances

The 8th annual Gas Safety Week, which this year takes place between September 17 – 23, was launched at a special reception in parliament on September 13 with stakeholders committing to step up efforts around improving public awareness and pushing for legislative change.

A range of MPs, installers and key figures from the Gas Safe Register programme, which continues to be operated by Capita, set out some of the key challenges and progress over the last year in building up public awareness around the dangers of unsafe appliances and carbon monoxide poisoning.

MP Barry Sheerman, a longstanding backer of Gas Safety Week campaign, said the campaign in recent years had proved effective in limiting and curbing incidents of deaths from poorly maintained gas systems and appliances.

He said, “Working with Gas Safe Register, the main players and all the people manufacturing alarms, we have kept this big open partnership working together effectively. I still think there is more to be done.”

Mr Sheerman said he hoped to see more work in addressing concerns about gas safety awareness, particularly when people are on holiday abroad by encouraging tourists to bring portable carbon monoxide detectors with them.

He also called for a further push to amend housing regulations and rules, such as by restricting home insurance cover only to properties that have smoke alarms and CO detectors installed.

Conservative MPs including Maria Miller and Eddie Hughes have also been supporting Gas Safety Week.

Mr Hughes used the launch to discuss his efforts over the last twelve months to introduce a Private Members Bill that would make CO detectors mandatory in all new build and rented properties had led government to agree to launching a consultation on the matter.

He said, “Why wouldn’t they [introduce new legislation]? The technology has come on an awful long way since those meters were originally designed. We know that people have meters in their property and they might not be very keen on checking the batteries and functionality, but new battery technology means that these gas meters may run for five, six or seven years with the same batteries in them and these are very cheap.”

“The cost that we might put on saving lives is ever decreasing.”

Mr Hughes accepted that the consultation had not been formally launched as yet by government, citing recent changes to leadership in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

However, he said he would continue to push new minister Kit Malthouse to ensure the consultation went ahead.

Gas Safe future

The launch event also touched on this week’s announcement that Capita had been chosen by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as the preferred bidder to operate the Gas Safe Register under a new contract set to launch next year. This would see the Capita Gas Registration and Ancillary Services (CGRAS) subsidiary continuing for an additional five years to maintain the official register, which lists all engineers that are licensed to perform work on gas systems.

Jonathon Samuel, chief executive of the Gas Safe Register scheme, said that the existing brand would be maintained as part of the new concession, yet there were plans to ensure greater investment in building awareness of the scheme.

He added, “There will also be increased focus on areas such as inspection, engagement and consultation with industry and gas safety engineers.”

Mr Samuel said there were some pressing challenges to be addressed around managing the register. These included ensuring the messages of Gas Safety Week were being understood all year round and that the public have improved vigilance over the need for their heating systems to be checked and maintained more regularly.

He said, “We need to acknowledge that for most of the public, gas safety is not front of their minds most of the time. If an appliance is working, having them serviced or annually checked is not a priority to them.”

“If they don’t know someone who has been killed or injured by unsafe gas appliances, they may not know the potential risks. We need to find ways to connect with the public.”

The register is also partnering with the Crime Stoppers organisation, which has a fuel and energy theft unit, on trying to tackle cases of tampering with gas meters that can lead to safety issues.

Vulnerable residents

The Gas Safe Charity, which was established as part of the register programme, said it had been working for over five years on a major project with the Foundations Independent Living Trust (FILT) organisation that works with home improvement agencies across the UK. This work has focused on providing grants to provide gas safety work and other building services support for vulnerable residents.

Gas Safe Charity chair Gordon Lishman said that over the last year, the collaboration had over the last year helped 1,755 households while making 2,119 interventions to undertake gas safety improvement work.

Mr Lishman used the event to introduce a number of initiatives underway from installers and other industry members to try and ensure safer gas systems across a range of homes.

This included work undertaken by Tom Ruxton, founder of not for profit organisation HEET, which perform work that is funded by grants from public bodies to improve the efficiency and safety og heating systems in low income homes.

Mr Ruxton said the group was one of the recipients of funding from the Gas Safe Charity to support work with the Waltham Forest Home Improvement Agency. He said that the allocations of funds had allowed move beyond its initial fuel poverty focus and look as gas safety issues as well.

The organisation’s work is supported through ‘social prescriptions’ determined by a large supporting network of health workers and social workers to identify properties vulnerable residents that may live in properties that can benefit from practical inspections and improvement work on appliances.

Mr Ruxton said the organisation has last year been allocated £17,500 through the Gas Safe Charity that had all been spent on projects.

He added, “We supported 90 different households, that works out as an average cost per household of £194, which isn’t an enormous amount of money, yet if you think that each of these interventions may have saved someone’s life, it seems a good use of the money.”

Mr Ruxton said that more than half of this work performed by HEET was focused on issues around dangerous boilers, with the remaining focused on gas fires and cookers.

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