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HSE inspector issues stark warning on gas

Councils, ALMOs*, housing associations, and organisations engaged in the servicing and maintenance of gas appliances must provide their heating engineers with manufacturer- and appliance-specific training if they wish to avoid the same fate as Gateshead council.


The warning was issued by Michael Bone, a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector, after Gateshead Metropolitan Borough council pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA).


The council was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £6,830 costs at Gateshead Magistrates Court earlier this week following an incident at Crookhill Primary School, Ryton, in November 2006, in which 25 pupils and two teachers were taken to hospital after being overcome by carbon monoxide fumes.


Mr Bone, the HSE inspector in charge of bringing the case to prosecution, said the incident was a result of a combination of factors: the boiler, which had been installed in 1999, had been fitted correctly but the flue hadn’t. “We weren’t able to establish who installed the flue. If we had, we’d have brought a case against that individual or company as well,' he said.


“The heating plant in the school was serviced and maintained yearly by the heating engineers from Gateshead council. However, when Gateshead last serviced the plant in June/July 2006, there were issues resulting from that maintenance.


“The heating engineer, who was CORGI-registered and nationally-accredited, who carried out that servicing had not under specific appliance training with regards to this specific type of boiler. Therefore, he was unaware of a rather critical part in the valve assembly. Consequently, that valve was missing when he put that boiler back together.


“Also he didn’t have access to the manufacturers’ instructions when he was carrying out the service. As a result, one boiler in particular began to produce large amounts of carbon monoxide. That, in combination with the ineffective flue, led the carbon monoxide to leak back into the school.”


Gateshead also lacked an effective gas safety management system in place, Mr Bone said. “That’s the principal reason why we went forward with this prosecution. If Gateshead had, they’d have identified the faults with the installation and certainly with the flue.”


He concluded: “Although the school’s heating plant was maintained and serviced yearly, and there were supporting records, our investigation revealed that on many occasions the forms had been incorrectly filled out. In addition, critical bits of service information had been omitted entirely.”


A Gateshead spokesperson said: “Since this incident we’ve been working closely with both CORGI and the HSE to implement a new gas safety management system. In the future, all our heating engineers will have immediate access to the boiler manufacturers’ instructions because we’ve now built cabinets close to our heating systems and boilers which will house these instructions.


“We’ve also implemented new processes whereby the yearly testing and maintenance of our heating systems are confirmed in writing. If there is no physical record, our heating engineers will have to re do it.”


He concluded: “We’ve been working closely with CORGI and the HSE to identify what our training requirements are, and our entire team of heating engineers are undergoing manufacturer specific training.”


Arms-length management organisations (ALMOs).