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HVCA: Gas safety training is robust

The Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association (HVCA) has hit back at claims that the gas safety training undertaken by authorised heating engineers needs strengthening.

The suggestion was made by Nicolas Giauque, the father of six-year-old Elisabeth Giauque, who died in February 2005 after being poisoned by carbon monoxide fumes from a faulty boiler.

During the trial of Hussein Jajbhay, the owner and landlord of the house Elisabeth shared with her family, it was revealed that the last full service of the boiler was carried out in 2002. The latest landlord’s gas safety certificate (GSC) was issued in 2003.

Despite the missed GSCs, Judge Aidan Marron QC expressed disquiet that none of the CORGI-registered installers noticed that the boiler failed to meet ventilation requirements on prior inspections.

Mr Giauque, a partner, portfolio manager and the chief compliance officer with Noonday Asset Management, described the installers as “incompetent” (see H&V News, June 14). He also described the gas safety inspection and servicing processes which allowed the boiler to be deemed safe as “weak”.

Bob Towse, the HVCA’s head of technical and safety, rejected both criticisms. “While I sympathise with Mr Giauque, I disagree,” he said. “The gas safety training and testing regime that’s in place in the installer marketplace is very rigorous. In fact, it’s overly rigorous – people often complain that it’s too bureaucratic.

“Under the ACS [Accredited Certification Scheme] assessment, installers are tested every five years to a level which is unprecedented within the UK construction industry. The gas training regime is very comprehensive, very detailed and stands out as an absolute pinnacle of training in the building-services sector.”

Mr Towse added: “I don’t subscribe to the view that this incident was the result of a training failure; it was an operational failure. I’d argue that authorised installers who don’t [practice] in the correct manner are fully competent but don’t apply their competencies properly.

“This could be the result of a number of external commercial pressures. For instance, heating engineers are allowed to turn the gas off in cases where they believe a [unit] is dangerous. However, they will quickly find themselves unpopular with landlords if they keep doing that.”

Tony Brunton, chair of the Association of Registered Gas Installers, also agreed that gas safety training was not to blame. But he argued that as long as ACS is used outside its remit, cases like Elisabeth Giauque’s would occur.

“The ACS was designed to allow qualified and competent installers to demonstrate their ability to work safely with gas,” he said. “If the scheme is used as a route into the industry for unskilled or partially skilled operatives then we will continue to have problems when these people get out of their depth.

“What we need are people who are whole-job competent to come forward and demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and practical ability to deal with criteria critical to gas safety such as flueing, ventilation, testing, and purging and understanding combustion, rather than people who have good memories and can tick the right boxes.”

The Association of Personnel Certification Bodies was unable to comment.